Marcel Kittel returns home from the Dubai Tour without a stage victory, and knows that his new Katusha-Alpecin lead-out train still has work to do if it wants to compete against Quick-Step Floors and Dimension Data in the high-speed sprint finishes.
The German finished sixth in the final sprint on stage 5, hampered by Nacer Bouhanni's late crash and unable to close the gap on the riders who avoided the spill, a group which included his teammates Marco Haller and Rick Zabel. Kittel could only watch, however, as Elia Viviani (Quick-Step) managed to recoup the ground to win the final stage ahead of Haller and wrap up overall victory.
Kittel dominated the last two editions of the Dubai Tour with Quick-Step Floors, winning four stages and claiming the overall classification on each occasion. This year his lead-out is still under construction. While some of his teammates let their anger and frustration show, Kittel kept his cool and showed his class after every sprint. He is focused on learning from any mistakes so he can quickly start winning in his new colours.
Kittel and his teammates used the ride back to the team hotel to talk and reflect on the sprint, and he shared his thoughts afterwards.
"Everybody was disappointed that we couldn't go for a good result today," Kittel admitted.
"I think the critical point was that last corner where the crash happened. No team was complete and that also happened to us. Then as soon as the crash came, everyone was messed up again and we could only try to find a good way to make it to the finish line. But that was very difficult.
"I tried to go as good as I could but Marco [Haller] and Rick [Zabel] were in front and were thinking I wasn't there after the crash and wanted to save a good result. In the end that didn't happen. Second [with Haller – ed.] is not a bad result but we had a victory as the plan today."
Kittel will return to the Gulf for the Abu Dhabi Tour, which starts on February 21. He is convinced that his sprint team will have learnt from any mistakes by then and be far more successful.
"It's a moment to learn and also to grow as a team. That was the main goal of this Dubai Tour," Kittel said, trying to find his glass half full at the end of the five-day event. "We have things to discuss after this race but I really believe it will make us stronger."