Marcel Kittel's chances of riding the Tour de France and challenging Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the sprints have been given a much needed boost by his sixth place in Sunday's Rund um Köln one-day race in Germany.
The Giant-Alpecin sprinter revealed that his "sprint values were very good again" and predicted that he is "on the best way back to my old strength" in his personal blog. Kittel will further test his form in the Ster ZLM Toer this week (June 17-21) before he and the Giant-Alpecin team makes a final decision about riding the Tour de France.
Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) won Rund um Köln after being part of a five-rider breakaway but Kittel won the bunch sprint. It was his best sprint result since his comeback from the illness that wrecked the first part of his season. It came after a recent three-week training camp at altitude in Sierra Nevada, Spain, where Kittel worked hard on his form with teammates John Degenkolb and Warren Barguil.
"Unfortunately I didn't get the hoped-for top result in Rund um Köln. But still, I won the sprint of the peloton for sixth place," Kittel wrote in his personal blog with a hint of pride and optimism.
Kittel was named in Giant-Alpecin's 13-rider long list but doubts about his form for the Tour de France emerged when he climbed off during the opening stage of the Tour de Yorkshire and then missed the Tour of California. The German sprinter, who won four stages at both the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Tour de France, was struck by a virus in the early season and suffered further setbacks as he tried to return to racing. Kittel won the People's Choice criterium before the Tour Down Under in January but has still to win a road race in the 2015 season.
It seems the work in the Sierra Nevada has helped Kittel find some form, even if it is unclear if he has the endurance to be competitive for three weeks in the Tour de France.
"The additional mountain training in the Sierra Nevada the last three weeks sure made itself noticed today," Kittel said after the Rund um Köln race.
"Only at the beginning of the race did I not have good legs. That was surely due to the long trip and after all, my body has to get used to it again.
"By the way, my sprint values were very good again. I am on the best way back to my old strength. And I could even work on my climbing form – yes, even sprinters have that ;-) - even though some of my teammates, especially Warren Barguil, set a very high standard. But I did fairly well and as I said, could feel the first effects today. Now I will stay home for two days and then travel to the ZLM Tour."
Giant-Alpecin have announced that Kittel's key lead out man Tom Veelers will miss the Tour as he recovers from knee surgery he had in April. Veeler's knee injury also saw him miss the Giro d'Italia in May.
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