Marcel Kittel left the Dubai Tour with three sprint victories, the overall victory, satisfaction that his Quick-Step Floors lead-out is as reliable as ever and the confidence that he is on track for further success in 2017.
The Dubai Tour sprints may not be the Tour de France, as Dimension Data's Mark Cavendish was keen to point out, but with eight sprint victories in just two stage races, Quick-Steep Floors are already the team to beat whenever lead-out trains and power sprinting decide the day.
"I'm very happy with the last sprint of the Dubai Tour. Finishing the race like this, winning the stage and the GC, makes me proud of how strong our team is," Kittel said in the race winner's press conference held near the finish line in the shadow of downtown Dubai's Burj Khalifa skyscraper.
"It was a difficult finale because there weren't many corners: it was all about positioning. I think we did it very well. We were there at the end and I felt good in the sprint and showed my strength. I'm happy we could home with the GC win too."
Kittel lifted the race winner's Circle of Stars trophy over his head on the final podium, savouring his victory. He will go home with great memories but also a scare and a black eye caused by the blow from Andrey Grivko during stage three.
"It was an eventful Dubai Tour definitely," Kittel joked. "I'll keep this race in my memory for the next few days because my eye will adopt the same colour as the blue jersey.
"It was an up and down race, I think you always see that in cycling. There good things for me and the team such as the victories but then there was also the cancellation of stage. That doesn't make anyone happy. It was a reasonable and good decision, especially because it was taken by the organisers with the riders and the UCI. It was good to see it's part of the process for riders safety."
Quick-Step Floors: The dominant lead out train
Kittle refused to distinguish between his two consecutive GC victories at the Dubai Tour, highlighting the strength, development and growing adaptability of his Quick-Step Floors leadout train.
Kittel won three sprints, with different lead outs for different finales. He won stage 1 after a perfect high-speed lead-out on the edge of the Palm Jumeirah. On stage 2, lead-out man Fabio Sabatini dragged him through the chaos so Kittel could make a late surge on the outside and use his power to win the sprint. The high-octane finale and lack of corners on stage 5 made it difficult to line out the peloton and Kittel ended up going early, with Cavendish in his slipstream. The Manxman had a gear problem but Kittel had the power and speed to win again and seal overall victory.
"I don't see a difference. Yesterday was unfortunate. The riders wanted to race but the weather conditions were too bad. Nobody said, 'I wanted to risk my health,' and so there's no point in arguing now that this edition is better than the other one. We saw a very nice race this year and I'm proud of both victories," he said.
"I think it's something special again because I don't have many chances to go for GC. I can add another title, that's really cool and I'm very proud of that. It shows consistency over a few days by myself and my team. We have a strong team spirit that makes this possible and we can celebrate with a GC win as well now," he said.
"I think that says there are a lot of fast guys in peloton at the moment, that's increased the level of competition. It's never easy to win but now there is even more competition and you have to be well prepared going into the season, have a good team around you and it really comes down to details now to go for the victory in the sprint."
"It's pretty clear that riders like Fabio (Sabatini) and Matteo (Trentin) are very important to me. We saw that in the finale. The early races of the season are a chance to see what the new guys can do and [in] which other position we can use the riders. It's interesting and we'll talk about what we do for the next races."
Kittel naturally dismissed Cavendish's claims that it is still very early in the season, that the Tour de France is far more important than early success at the Dubai Tour.
"I see it from the other side, I'd be pretty upset if it didn't go to plan and I couldn't go for wins," he said.
"I take confidence from this race and that's an important step. Of course the season is long. I said already that there will be many moments (sprints) when we will come together again and everything starts from zero. But that's normal. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I think we made a very good job so far."
"I'm very happy with whole team performance. I think we were the most dominant team in the race. Somethings do go wrong in lead-outs and it depends on the quality of team to correct mistakes, which we did on stage 2. Today Sabatini dropped a chain. That can happen but we still went into the final in a good position. I'm very happy and very proud of my team."
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