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Dubai Tour: Kittel savours his first win on disc brakes

Marcel Kittel kicked off his 2017 season with a victory on the opening stage of the Dubai Tour, celebrating a repeat of his successful season debut in last year's race.

The powerful German finished off the excellent work of his Quick-Step Floors lead-out train on the edge of the Palm Jumeirah as he did last year. This first win of the new season, however, was different to 2016.

Kittel was not looking for redemption this time, with his problems at Giant-Alpecin already buried firmly in the past. This time he also won using a disc brake-equipped bike, becoming only the second rider in history to win on the new road technology, after his teammate Tom Boonen's victory in the Vuelta a San Juan.

"There's obviously one more year between them, but also one extra year of racing for me," Kittel explained in his winner's press conference.

"I see it as a process. When I came to Etixx last year, the Dubai Tour was like the world Championships to me. I wanted to come back and prove myself in the team. That's still the same motivation this season, but it's a different feeling. Now I know everyone in the team. Now we've won races together in 2016, we've had good and hard times, too. Having a full season in my legs gives me a different start to 2017."

Kittel rightly praised his teammates for their textbook lead-out. Dimension Data had dragged the peloton along for the final five kilometres, but Quick-Step Floors came late and came fast, taking Kittel up to the front and lining out the peloton in the final kilometre. Kittel's rivals could only follow in his slipstream when he opened up his sprint in sight of the line. Kittel win by more than bike length and had plenty of time to celebrate his first win of 2017.

"I think we did a very good job because in the first race of the year you're always insecure," Kittel explained.

"You can have strongest team in the world but you can be most insecure because you don't know how everyone will ride together. But I know that with [Fabio] Sabatini, with [Davide] Martinelli, with [Matteo] Trentin, we knew we had really good guys. Max Schachmann was also strong and in the right moment. [Julien] Vermote and [Bob] Jungels also did a great job. That shows great team spirit."

Kittel was happy but warned it is still very early in the season.

"Maybe its good to remember that it's only the 31st of January today. There's still five months to go until the Tour de France. It's nice to start the season like this but it's only a reminder that you win like this when you work hard, and when you dedicate yourself to a goal. If you don't do that then maybe someone else will win."

Debate in the peloton about Kittel's disc brakes

Kittel admitted he rarely touched the disc brakes on his Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS bike during the flat stage and the fast finish but he remains convinced he made the right choice by opting for the new bike technology that is again allowed in races as part of a UCI test period.

Kittel is the only rider at the Dubai Tour using disc brakes, and the news has sparked lots of interest from his fellow riders. Other riders had seen photos of Kittel's bike on Cyclingnews and peppered him questions about disc brakes in the professional peloton. Some were curious; others were more critical.

"I got a lot of questions from riders during the stage asking about them and telling me their opinion. I cannot say much about them because I was lucky that didn't have to use them too much today, especially in the finale." Kittel said.

"A lot of the guys wanted to know how it feels riding with discs. People know about them from mountain bikes or 'cross bikes but its actually a little bit different when you hit the high speeds. Some guys said they don't understand why we should change to disc brakes. They didn't criticise me personally but the whole discussion at the moment is going slow. It could be an advantage to be open-minded about new technology but I understand there are some problems."

It will be interesting to see if more riders begin to use disc brakes and the season continues and if they use them in more testing conditions such as the Belgian Classics, when slow wheel changes or other issues could affect their chances of winning major races.

"I think I made the right choice to use them. When pro riders try them on long downhills or rainy stages, they will feel that it can make a difference," Kittel argued, also pointing out the bike design advantages of using disc brakes.

"The disc brakes give you more possibility to make the frame stiffer compared to rim brakes. For example that's an improvement when you can add more carbon and make it a stiffer bike. It was already a stiff bike but now I'm happy to have it and I like to ride it. It's heavier but not that much. It makes a difference but you have to consider what you can gain in certain race scenarios. I don't think the weight is the most important factor."

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Stephen Farrand
Stephen Farrand

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.