Marcel Kittel's problems are not only continuing, but are getting worse. After being dropped on the flat at Scheldeprijs, finishing 99th in the race he has won five times, even Katusha-Alpecin head sport director Dirk Demol said that the situation "makes no sense".
The 2019 season started out promisingly for Kittel but soon went south, and things didn't improve with the Spring Classics. The German sprinter was never a factor in either Driedaagse Brugge – De Panne or Scheldeprijs. After struggling the whole race on Wednesday, Kittel was finally dropped from the main field and finished a disappointing 99th, over four and a half minutes down.
"I cannot hide that this makes no sense. In terms of condition, he is just not in order, otherwise you don't just get dropped on the flat,” Demol told Dutch cycling website Wielerflits.
“He is just as disappointed as we are. He doesn't understand it either. He was motivated at the start of Scheldeprijs, but on the way he was honest. He soon indicated that he did not have the legs, on which we drew the [Marco] Haller and [Jens] Debusschere cards."
Kittel is, despite everything, still Katusha-Alpecin's top performer this season. He has the team's only win this year, and two of its other four podium places. The 2019 season got off to a promising start as he won the Trofeo Palma at Challenge Mallorca and took second at the Clasica de Almeria. He managed third place in one sprint stage at the UAE Tour, and abandoned Paris-Nice on the fourth stage, having struggled in the crosswinds and failed to participate in any of the previous bunch sprint finishes.
Performance manager Erik Zabel and general manager Jose Azevedo are also looking to help the troubled 30-year-old. They hope to have him in shape for his next scheduled race, the Tour de Yorkshire (May 2-5), which is to be followed by the Tour of California (May 12-18).
"Panic is a bad adviser. It is clear to everyone that he is not in condition at the moment, but we won't let him fall," Demol said.
"Internally we are considering how we can get things back on track as quickly as possible. We are convinced that if he is in top form, he is still among the three fastest riders in the world. We will definitely not let him fall."
Former pro Jurgen Van Den Broeck, now a commentator for Belgian broadcaster Sporza, claimed to have heard reports that Kittel was "not busy with his profession" and was "drinking too much beer and wine.”
Demol responded by saying he could only comment on the sporting aspects. "Marcel had a good winter and started the season motivated. Just like with every WorldTour team, we follow our riders well. He finishes his training as he should.”
Kittel had two banner years at QuickStep before moving to Katusha in 2018. That season his performance dropped dramatically, as his only season wins were two stages at Tirreno-Adriatico. He took no wins at the Tour de France before leaving the race after being over the time limit on a high-mountain stage. Before joining QuickStep in 2016 he had suffered a similar dramatic drop in form and results with Giant-Alpecin during the 2015 season, having won four stages at the Tour the year before.