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Race leader Marcel Kittel (Argos - Shimano)
Argos-Shimano sprinter oozes confidence
Marcel Kittel seemed to ooze confidence rather than show signs of fear and nerves as the hours counted down to the start of the Tour de France in Corsica; his hair, his sunglasses and his sprinter's natural confidence made him look more like a member of boy band than a professional cyclist about to begin a three week Grand Tour.
The 25 year-old German made his Tour de France debut in 2012 but retired on stage five after a stomach problem wrecked his hopes of being competitive in the sprints.
He has performed much better this season after Argos-Shimano secured a WorldTour licence and is rightly considered one of the star sprinters of the 2013 Tour de France, alongside Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) and Andrei Greipel (Lotto Belisol). Their first showdown in Bastia on Saturday should be spectacular.
Kittel has won sprints at the Tour of Oman, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Picardie, the Tour of Turkey and most recently at the Ster ZLM Toer, where he beat many of his big-name rivals. He also took their scalps at the Scheldeprijs race in Belgium and won the ProRace Berlin.
He will target the flat stages and pure sprinter finishes at the Tour de France, while teammate and compatriot John Degenkolb will look for success on the hillier stages. Kittel is hoping he can hit the jackpot and win Saturday's opening stage and so pull on the first race leader's yellow jersey. However he is aware that this year's Tour de France parcour offer plenty of other chance should he miss out in Bastia.
"It'd be something really special and we're fully aware of it but we're also aware that if it doesn't work out there, then we shouldn't be disappointed because we have a lot of other chances," he told Cyclingnews on the eve of the Tour de France.
"It's a big chance for our team. It's one chance of six or seven sprint stages. Were hoping to do our best and prove that we're one of the best sprint teams in the world. That's our goal for this Tour de France."
"Last year wasn't the best way to make a Tour de France debut. But it was good experience and now I'm looking forward to a new chance at this year's Tour de France. We've got a good sprint team and we'll concentrate on doing a good sprint because if we do that, we know we can go for the win."
Sprint team for super fast lead outs
Argos-Shimano selected largely a team of sprint domestiques, with Tom Veelers and Koen de Kort expected to lead out Kittel and Degenkolb. The two German sprinters intend to share the possible sprint stages between them to avoid any clash of ambition and ego.
"We both know what we can do best. John needs a hard stage, where the fast guys are dropped. That's the best situation for him to win. I need good race, so that I can reach the finish easily and feel fresh. We'll work together and help each other but it's clear on which day we'll go for sprints," Kittel explained.
"It's great to have the full support of the team. Were all friends and were all fighting to help each other, so it makes it special in the team with the guys. I like that philosophy."
Kittel does not have the same palmares as Cavendish or even Greipel, especially at the Tour de France. He respects his rivals but is out to beat them and confirm his place at the top table of cycling sprinters. He feels he is ready to do it on cycling's biggest stage: the Tour de France.
"If we looked at the recent sprints, at the ZLM Toer, all the sprinters were up there and we won. Beating the likes of Cavendish and Greipel is nothing new for us except that now it's the Tour de France. That's what makes it perhaps bigger and what makes it special."