Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) says that he is not aiming to repeat his run of five stage victories at this year’s Tour de France. Kittel was the dominant sprinter at last year’s race, notching up five wins before he was eventually forced to abandon following a crash in the final week.
“You can never set the goal to go for five stage wins in the Tour. That is why we first go for one stage victory, as I used to do in the past. That's better,” told German newspaper Sudkurier.
If Kittel were to repeat his feat, it would more than triple his current win tally in 2018. This time last season, Kittel had already racked up nine victories ahead of his five-win haul at the 2017 Tour. Twelve months on, he heads into July with just two victories at Tirreno-Adriatico on his palmares. His final preparation race at the Tour de Slovenie with 27th on stage 2 his best result. Kittel said that settling into a new sprint train has been a challenge for him this season, but the German believes that he is heading in the right direction.
"The beginning of the year was tough and I was not as successful as I had hoped,” Kittel said. “Yet, I feel that I'm on the right track. Of course, I would have liked to win a few more races. But on the other hand, I do not think I have given it away in many places. It is also not easy to put a perfect sprint train on track in a relatively short time.
“We are working hard on it. Rick Zabel, Nils Politt and Tony Martin are super committed, but the loss of Marco Haller is a disadvantage.”
Kittel moved to Katusha-Alpecin over the winter after two seasons with the Quick-Step Floors squad. The switch is in contrast with that of two years ago when he slotted into a pre-made sprint train that had recently been vacated by Mark Cavendish. Italian Elia Viviani has enjoyed the same pleasure that Kittel did in 2016, while Fernando Gaviria looks on song ahead of the Grand Boucle. Kittel says that there is still plenty to do to create a similarly strong set-up with his new team.
"I came to this team to build a strong sprint train. There is of course still a lot of work for us, to form one solid team but we are on the right track,” he said. “We also have many young riders in the team. They have a good level, but they can do much better. I would like to help them with that growth. They are strong and understand the tactical game very well.”
In the interview, Kittel was asked about Chris Froome’s ongoing salbutamol case and whether or not he should race the Tour de France. Kittel said that Froome had the right to race but that his participation, while the investigation was still active, reflected badly on the sport and Team Sky’s attempts at transparency.
"It is not a good thing for cycling," said the German. "The problem lies in the anti-doping regulations, which make it possible for Froome to start. He and Sky do everything possible to prove his innocence and that is why I think it takes so long. People are annoyed and I do not like it either. I find it difficult to say whether or not Froome should start. The possibility is there, and his team uses that. But, Sky has wanted to be transparent since its existence and want to practice a pure sport. They had the opportunity, in this case, to underline those words and keep Froome aside. They have not, however. "