Marcel Kittel says that he’s ready to strike back in 2016 after a season marred by illness as he heads towards his debut with his new team Etixx-QuickStep. Kittel had just 32 race days in 2015 and claimed just two victories at the People's Choice Down Under Classic and a stage at the Tour de Pologne.
The parting of ways with Giant-Alpecin, a team that he’d been at since he turned professional in 2011, added to what was already a challenging season. Happy in his new surroundings, he’s raring to go when it all kicks off at his first race.
“Of course I want to strike back,” he told Cyclingnews at the team’s Calpe training camp. “I’ve been five years with my old team. It’s a long time but nobody said that it would be forever like this. I’m sad that it developed that way. It’s now a new challenge for me and I’m really happy with the way that things are going at the moment.”
Kittel will be taking Mark Cavendish's spot as the team’s star sprinter but he is adamant that he is there in his own right and not a replacement. “I think it’s not about comparing each other,” Kittel said. “It’s the same situation when a new sprinter comes up and he’s the new Kittel, Cavendish or Greipel. You’re just yourself and you go your own way and that’s the same way. I’m not a replacement for Cavendish. The team is also the team and has its own character. I want to make everything fit as much as possible.”
During the media day at the Etixx-QuickStep training camp, Kittel was unsurprisingly a rider in demand being pulled hither and tither by the journalists that had descended on the seaside town of Calpe. While he is keen to make up for the disappointments of 2015 he was reluctant to talk too much about his ambitions. He did however reveal his schedule. His start at the Dubai Tour was already well publicised but to that he will also add the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice. He also plans to do both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, where he hopes to take another yellow jersey.
“I have my goals for 2016 and I really want to achieve them and see what is possible with a new challenge,” he said.
The Dubai Tour next month will be Kittel’s first chance to test out his new sprint train. He’s already identified Fabio Sabatini and fellow new signing Maximiliano Richeze as the two men that will help him in the lead-out at the start of the season, but he explains that he hasn’t shut the door to other riders moving in.
“This is going to be an open process. I want to be sure that everyone gets their chance to identify themselves as someone who can help achieve this goal as a team,” Kittel said. “We can see who is maybe the best combinations for lead-outs and then it is important to have as many guys to train with and to practice with. We want to be able to change from race to race when the team is not always the same group of riders and adapt and to be able to do a lead-out there.”
Switching into a new set-up is never easy, especially after spending so much of a career in the same team. Sprint trains have become well-oiled machines and forming a new one will be a case of try it and see. Kittel has already been working hard with his new teammates but he’s aware that there will be some tough times ahead.
“There will be situations where it will be hard and we make mistakes and we won’t be able to win because of it but we have to learn from that and that’s the most important thing,” Kittel explained. “It’s also true that you need to take some time to make something work. In the end you need the races to practice it. Things can go wrong and will go wrong but we won’t panic, we have to be able to learn.”