After an illness hit start to the 2015 campaign Marcel Kittel (Giant Alpecin) is set to compete in the World Ports Classic later this week. The German, according to his team, is over the virus that plagued the opening months of his season, and is now looking for race miles as he builds fitness and form ahead of the Tour de France.
Since the virus – first picked up in the spring – Kittel has been a non-starter in a number of races, most recently at the Tour of California. He pulled out of the Tour de Yorkshire at the start of May after roughly 100 kilometres of racing and the last race he finished was the Tour of Qatar back in February. His only win to date in 2015 came at the Peoples' Choice Classic in Australia, back in January.
"It's good to clarify what has happened with Marcel and his health. I've read that he's still suffering with a virus but that’s not the case," Giant-Alpecin's physician Anko Boelens told Cyclingnews.
"Let's start at the beginning when it was a really busy period for Marcel with training camps and the Tour Down Under. Then he went to Taiwan for meetings with Giant. Then he got sick and started to show flu like symptoms. He had a fever, he was coughing and his throat was hurting. He was sick for week and had it pretty bad."
Kittel arrived in Qatar in February looking under the weather and he failed to make an impression on any of the flat stages. According to Boelens the rider may have over-trained in the period before Qatar as he looked to find his form after the illness. However, it was only after Qatar that the medical staff finally diagnosed the rider with the correct condition.
"In Qatar he didn’t feel himself and that could have been two things, either he trained too hard or he wasn't not trained enough. In the beginning he felt he needed more training and rhythm but that only backfired and he became more tired. I don't think it was a mistake that he rode Qatar. Of course with hindsight you can see how you might do things better."
"So we did more tests and it showed that he'd been sick, and we could see from his blood work that he probably did suffer with a virus but that it was in the past. After that we concluded that he was suffering from over-reaching. That happens more than you think, people think that because they don’t have the symptoms that they're better."
Despite the diagnosis Kittel kept training and traveling for a period before the medical staff finally told the rider to ease off and totally rest.
"Then he started up again. He's coming from far back and he needs to do a lot of catching up. He's going to races where everyone is in top shape and he's not," Boelens told Cyclingnews.
When Kittel arrived in Yorkshire at the start of May, expectations within the team were low. It was the German's first race in several months after missing the spring classics and no one knew where his form would be. Boelens admits that, in hindsight, Kittel may have returned too soon, with the rider climbing off during stage 1.
"In hindsight you could argue that it was too soon. We didn't expect him to win a stage or do well there but part of coming back is about doing a few races, and we figured that even if he had to abandon after a day it would still be good training because it's high intensity and something you can't copy in training."
Now fully rested, Boelens has given Kittel the green light to start racing again. The German is well short of top form, however, and expectations will once again be low at the World Ports Classic. However the doctor is still optimistic that Kittel can find his best form in time for the Tour de France, where he is set to clash with the peloton’s other top sprinters.
"It's no longer a medical problem, that's gone. Now it's about getting fit again," he said.
"I still think that's there a chance that he can be ready for the Tour de France but I'm an optimist, but that decision is down to the coaches and the trainers. I've given the green light that he can race again though."