After spending his first five years as a professional racer with the same organisation, German Marcel Kittel will start anew in 2016 with the Belgian Etixx-Quickstep squad. Speaking from the route presentation for the 2016 Giro d'Italia, Kittel told Cyclingnews that a fresh start is just what he needs to get his career back on track.
"I'm happy and sad at once," Kittel said. "Sad because I have to leave a group of riders behind that I grew up with, and where I started my cycling career. It's also for me a period where I have to say goodbye, and after that there's going to be the exciting time to prepare for the new challenges with Etixx-Quickstep. I'm really looking forward to that, because for me a fresh start is exactly what I need. I feel like I'm having that now. I hope we can all make the best out of it."
Kittel burst onto the scene with Skil-Shimano in 2011, racking up 17 victories his first year in races such as the Four Days of Dunkirk, Tour of Poland, and his first Grand Tour victory, a stage in the Vuelta a España.
He followed that up in 2012 with his first major one-day win in the Scheldeprijs - a race he would go on to win three times in a row - and in 2013 began piling up Tour de France stage victories, claiming four each that year and the next. But a string of illnesses and injuries has kept Kittel to just one win in his final season with Giant-Alpecin this year - the opening stage in the Tour of Poland - and no Grand Tour starts.
Kittel was elusive when asked to pinpoint the reasons for leaving Giant-Alpecin, but said it was more than just being left out of the Tour de France. "It's a combination of things... I would not say the Tour decision was the main role in it," he said.
Instead, the 27-year-old is focusing on what he will need to do in the coming year to get back to being the prolific champion of prior seasons. "I really want to focus on making this team work with me. I think that's the most important and interesting part."
It will be a challenge since Kittel will make the move without any of his lead-out men, and with Etixx-Quickstep's former main sprinter Mark Cavendish taking Mark Renshaw to Dimension Data with him. But Kittel has confidence his new team can come up with a winning combination.
"When the new season starts you're back to zero. That's how I see it with the team. Everything is a bit back to zero. You have to get to know the people, I have to get to know everyone there, we have to set up a plan, [get] everything so it fits together and we can be successful in that combination. That's the challenge for me.
"It's not easy to make everything perfect. But when I came to Skil-Shimano five years ago, I was also in a group of people where everything was new, and you have to get used to each other. I think Etixx-Quickstep showed that they can really handle a sprinter well and can build a team around him. That's the trust I have when I go there, and I think it will be successful."