After an early season full of "disappointment" due to a persistent virus and the inherent doubts that go along with a period off the bike, German sprinter Marcel Kittel is back on track and training properly. Still, his participation in the upcoming Tour de France remains at stake: "I will take a decision after the Ster ZLM Toer."
Giant-Alpecin’s training camp in Sierra Nevada made some room today for the media, who came to meet the team’s star riders on top of Granada’s mountains. In this context, Marcel Kittel shared his views and doubts during a 20-minute interview with a group of journalists.
"It’s good to be here," he started. "This is the training I need. I’m the sort of rider that needs a good build-up before racing. So in the past 10 days I’ve done some endurance rides to get some base level and today I did some power training and uphill sprints to get some intensity in my legs."
So far, Kittel’s season hasn’t been brilliant. It got underway in style with a victory in the People’s Choice Classic, a criterium held on the eve of the Tour Down Under. Later on, he was below par in the Australian race and struggled to finish the Tour of Qatar. At that point, he underwent some medical tests that revealed a virus which was preventing him from doing good on the bike. The only medicine for it was resting.
"I couldn’t really influence the process of recovery," he explained. "The only advice I got was: 'Stay calm, don’t worry.' The only answer I had to that was…[Kittel shows his middle finger to the air, laughing]. "One goes: 'How should that help me?’ But in the end, after a few weeks, I realised that advice wasn’t bullshit but truth: only time could help me."
Those weeks without riding were difficult for the Giant-Alpecin rider. “It was a period of disappointment. I had a lot of time to think about a lot of things." He denied the rumors that hinted he suffered from depression in that span. "It is not that I fell in a very deep hole. I just stopped, looked back, looked to the front, and decided what I wanted and how I wanted to be. That has developed me [as a person]. I wouldn’t say this has been a bad year so far, because thinking all this through is very important for my career. It is not a victory in terms of racing, but it is a victory from a personal point of view."
Even sweet moments like the triumphs of John Degenkolb at Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix came with some bitterness attached. "Especially Sanremo. On one hand I was very happy for the team, but on the other I was disappointed because making the selection for that race was a goal for me. I wanted to help John and give something back to him after all the work he’s done for me."
In spite of this, he is happy and even grateful for his teammate’s success. "John’s victories took some attention away from my problems. That was nice."
Once his health was recovered, Kittel resumed racing in the beginning of May at the Tour de Yorkshire, where he didn’t finish the first stage. "I expected it. I was sick in bed the week before the race, which also was very tough. So I didn’t mind about what happened there."
Three weeks later, he completed the World Ports Classic. "It went okay, but I also noticed that I still needed more intensity to be really competitive and bring a good sprint to the finish line."
Nowadays, the German sprinter is in the middle of a three-week training block in Sierra Nevada before taking part in the Ster ZLM Toer, a five-day race in the Netherlands set to happen mid-June.
"This is not the perfect plan, not the one I wanted, but I can’t change the circumstances and I have to concentrate on doing my best. I’ll see where I stand in the Ster ZLM Toer. After that race, I will decide whether I go to the Tour de France or not. Of course, if I’m dropped every day, then it would make no sense to go to the Tour - but that’s not my expectation. I hope to do well and I feel I can be confident after this good training I’m having in Sierra Nevada."