In the not too distant past, even the very quickest of young sprinters were expected to metamorphose gradually into a very different kind of rider. It was as if sprint victories were snobbishly deemed to be the pop singles of cycling – commercially viable but somehow lacking the artistic credibility of the Classics.
So it was that Sean Kelly and Johan Museeuw, among others, successfully evolved from fast men to Classics men, but changing genre has become an increasingly difficult proposition in the contemporary era, as testified by Alessandro Petacchi’s attempts to make an impact on the cobbles during his time at Milram.
Given his background as a rouleur – he was a bronze medallist in the under 23 Worlds time trial in 2010 – Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) would appear a prime candidate to transfer his skills to the longer form, but after a season that saw him claim four stages at the Tour de France, the German understandably has no intention of changing direction in 2014.
“My programme for next year is not decided yet, but I really don’t think it’s going to be that different to this season. I will concentrate on sprinting. That’s what I want. My goal is to do as many races as possible that suit me, and to win them. I’m not a Classics rider,” Kittel told Cyclingnews.
It is an attitude shared by Mark Cavendish, who has described sprinting as a calling for riders who are “addicted to winning”. Indeed, such is the lofty standard of contemporary sprinting – exemplified by Kittel and Cavendish’s extended duel at this year’s Tour – that a fast man can ill afford to be distracted by experimenting with a side project.
Yet in spite of the plethora of marquee sprinters in the peloton, they look set to be written out of the script at Milan-San Remo, traditionally the Spring Classic most amenable to their number. The insertion of the Pompeiana climb between the Cipressa and Poggio on next year’s route looks set to rob the race of some of its balance, and could well prove an insurmountable obstacle for the fast men. Kittel has yet to make his debut in La Classicissima, and that seems unlikely to change in 2014.
“It’s harder and it gives the sprinters less of a chance to be successful. In the end, I’m a bit sad because before there was always a 50-50 chance that the sprinters could survive the climbs, which make it very interesting but now the chances are higher that they won’t make it,” said Kittel.
“Even Gent-Wevelgem has become harder in recent years. I will sit down with my team and we’ll discuss the programme and whether it’s possible I go there, but for now, I really don’t know myself.”
Kittel will be on rather friendlier terrain in Saitama on Saturday, when he participates in the inaugural Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France, a new ASO venture in Japan. The season-ending exhibition race showcases a number of the protagonists from July, including yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) and world champion Rui Costa (Movistar), but Kittel and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will be expected to star on the flat city-centre circuit.
“It’s a nice finish to my season. I was looking forward to coming to Japan in general, but also for the racing, and now I’ll try to enjoy it as much as possible, before I head into the long winter,” said Kittel, whose four-stage haul from the Tour made him a popular draw at criteriums in Europe in July and August.
“This one is different mainly because it’s 10,000 kilometres away from all the criteriums I did before,” he said. “But it also has a special atmosphere because of the Japanese spectators, who are really crazy about it.”