Forced out of his debut Tour de France in the opening week by illness, Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) made a winning return to competitive action at the Eneco Tour on Monday, taking his 8th victory of the season with a fine sprint in Middelburg.
“I hadn’t won a race for almost two months [stage 4 of the Ster ZLM Toer],” Kittel told La Dernière Heure. “As a winner, this success is important for me, and it’s also a way of giving confidence to my teammates.”
Kittel’s team played a crucial role in his victory on Monday. On the fast run-in to Middelburg, they kept him clear of the crash that split the peloton inside the final 3 kilometres and marshalled him into the perfect position to win the bunch sprint ahead of Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat).
“We showed again that we’re a strong group,” Kittel said. “Everybody saw that and I just needed to finish off that work again.”
The German had spent two weeks off the bike after abandoning the Tour on the road to Saint-Quentin on stage 5. After processing that disappointment, Kittel was keen to get back into the winning habit at the Eneco Tour as he prepares for the Vuelta a España, which gets underway on August 18.
“I hadn’t raced since I abandoned the Tour on the fifth stage and in my head, it was as though I hadn’t ridden the Tour at all,” Kittel said. “Straight afterwards, I went to the seaside in northern German with my girlfriend to recover. I went two weeks without training but since then I’ve worked hard and I’m getting the benefit from it.”
Kittel leads the Eneco Tour into Tuesday’s 18.9km-long team time trial at Sittard, although he acknowledged that his Argos-Shimano squad would have its work cut out to defend the jersey.
“We’re going to try and keep the jersey but we won’t put too much pressure on ourselves,” Kittel said. “But we’re motivated and working well together.”