Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) looked to have finally put his torrid 2018 campaign behind him with a convincing win on the final day of the Mallorca Challenge. The German's win in the Trefeo Palma came almost a year after his last win in Tirreno-Adriatico, with the sprinter himself calling the victory a form of comeback.
One of the first members of the Katusha-Alpecin staff Kittel embraced after his win was former Tour de France green jersey winner Erik Zabel, who was brought in by Katusha over the winter as he team's performance director in a bid to rejuvenate Kittel's floundering career.
Zabel had worked with Katusha before, taking on the role of sprint coach in 2012. In 2013, however, he confessed to doping between 1996 and 2003, and he was suspended from Katusha, while Canyon also ended his link to the company as brand ambassador.
However since his reinstatement in December of last year, he has worked closely with Kittel, especially during the recent Katusha training camps, at which they trained over the roads used during Sunday's race.
"During the training camp we did this climb and then Marcel came alone four days ago to do it again. I think it was important that he had the confidence that he could do it. Before dinner last night we had a short meeting and asked him how he felt. He was very optimistic, and this morning, too. So we asked the climbers to stay close to him on the climb to protect him and bring him over the climb. The team worked so well together, and in the end, he did a great sprint," Zabel said in a press release.
Kittel's form this season will be integral to Katusha's overall performance. The team struggled for wins throughout 2018, with none of their main leaders able to provide regular success nor consistency. Kittel, who has 14 Tour de France stage wins to his name, will be looking to carry his current condition into his next batch of races, which include the UAE Tour, and eventually another return to the Tour de France in July.
"We saw during training camp that Kittel was in good condition and that today's shorter stage would be a good opportunity for him," said sports director, Claudio Cozzi.
"It wasn't simple because of the climb with 40k to go, so we dedicated the full team to him. Even the climbers stayed with him to help pass the climb and we came down in good position."