Kittel has ridden the Dubai Tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour but failed to win a stage as he and his new teammates worked on perfecting their lead out train. Kittel finished third in a sprint at the Dubai Tour and second on stage 3 of the Abu Dhabi Tour, when he was edged out by fellow German Phil Bauhaus (Team Sunweb) after thinking he had won.
Kittel was expected to be part of the Katusha-Alpecin squad for Paris-Nice and target the likely sprint finishes on stages two and three. However, he was not named in the seven-rider line-up on Thursday, despite previously being listed on the start list on the official race website by organisers ASO.
Maurits Lammertink appears to have taken Kittel’s place in Katusha-Alpecin’s Paris-Nice line-up. He was named on the entry list published by Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday but Kittel is now expected to take his place for the Italian race. The Katusha-Alpecin team did not respond to calls from Cyclingnews but Kittel’s personal website indicates he will ride Tirreno-Adriatico. Directeur sportif Torsten Schmidt told German website radsport-news.com that Kittel's switch was made in order to make the most of the more sprint opportunities available at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Ilnur Zakarin will lead Katusha-Alpecin with Marco Haller given the role of sprinter. If Kittel is confirmed for Tirreno-Adriatico, he will have the support of Britain’s Alex Dowsett, Rick Zabel, Tony Martin and Jose Goncalves. Also entered for the Italian stage race are Nathan Haas and Simon Spilak.
Kittel will face serious opposition in the Tirreno-Adriatico sprints with world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Sacha Modolo (EF Education First-Drapac), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina-Sella Italia) all on the entry list.
Kittel had been expected to impress in the early sprints after his move from Quick-Step Floors to Katusha-Alpecin but has played down any pressure despite missing out in several sprints.
“It always sounds easy – there’s a very good sprinter like Kittel and a very good lead-out train from Katusha-Alpecin and now they just have to ride together and they’re going to win a million races this year. But that’s not how it works,” Kittel said in Abu Dhabi.
“You don’t always see the result, but we are doing small steps. I think today we are at the point where we can say there’s progress, and we can be proud of that.”
Tirreno-Adriatico starts on Wednesday March 7 with a team time trial but sprint finishes are expected on stage 2 to Follonica and stage 6 to Fano.