In 2012, Marcel Kittel's only other appearance at the Amgen Tour of California, the German sprinter suffered every day and eventually abandoned on the stage 6 climb to Big Bear Lake. He made up for lost time on Sunday, winning the opening stage in Sacramento with a dominating display of teamwork and finishing speed.
The Quick-Step Floors rider and his team waited patiently over the three 3.5km finishing circuits around the state capitol and then pounced on the peloton when it mattered most, delivering Kittel to the front of the race, where he won by a bike length over Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and multiple bike lengths over third-placed Elia Viviani (Team Sky).
"It was a nice start to the Tour of California today," Kittel said, engaging in just a bit of understatement.
"I think we got rid of a lot of pressure today, and I think that we can look forward now to the next stages. We are in a situation now where we can also say 'take everyday and see what is coming and what we can do as a team because we have strong riders.'"
The 167km stage had no KOMs and just two intermediate sprints, providing what Kittel described as an "easy" day for the peloton. When the bunch caught the quartet of day-long escapees on the first of the three finishing circuits, Team Sky, Bora-Hansgrohe and Katusha massed at the front to fight for position.
Kittel and Quick-Step waited just behind in a masterful display of patience that thrilled team General Manager Patrick Lefevere, who told Cyclingnews he thinks his rider is good for another stage win this week. Kittel agreed.
"For me there is at least one more sprint I hope, maybe even more, but that depends on my condition and the race situation," he said. "So from now on we can go relaxed into the next days."
Monday's second stage includes the out-of-category climb up Mt. Hamilton about two-thirds of the way through the 144.5km stage, which finishes with several short, punchy ascents outside of San Jose. Kittel is unlikely to contest that finish, but stage 3 could finish with a bunch kick, and the final day in Pasadena will undoubtedly come down to a field sprint.
Sharpening form and confidence for the Tour de France
With the stellar line up of sprinters at this year's race, including Sagan, Viviani, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), taking a stage win in the race can be a good indication of form as riders start to rebuild after the Classics and look to the Tour. Kittel said it's the perfect place to launch the second block of the season.
"Pretty much all the riders that you have here, they are all coming out of an easy period, a training period after the Classics," he said. "Everyone is building up again for the Tour, and being in the Tour of California, it's also the first moment where you can see how other teams are doing, and you will probably also have a lot of teams that have some guys that will go also to the Tour.
"When I look to us, I think we can be happy that we worked so well together today."