Katusha-Alpecin have confirmed their line-up for the Tour de France, with the team divided between helping Marcel Kittel in the sprints and backing Ilnur Zakarin for the overall classification. Tony Martin is also part of the eight-rider team and will help set up Kittel’s lead out and target stage victories and the time trials.
Kittel will have the support and lead out from Rick Zabel and Nils Politt, while Zakarin can count on the USA’s Ian Boswell, Robert Kiserlovski and Pavel Kochetcov.
Zakarin has again kept a low profile as he prepared for the Tour de France. He finished 10th overall at the Criterium du Dauphine thanks to two top-10 places on the key mountain stages. He finished fifth and third in the 2017 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana and will target the Tour de France for just the second time in his career.
Kittel won two sprints at Tirreno-Adriatico but has struggled to click with his new teammates in the sprints. He dominated the Tour de France sprints last year, winning five stages. He has won a total of 14 stages during his career but goes into this year’s race with lower expectations.
“You can never set the goal to go for five stage wins in the Tour. That is why we first go for one stage victory, as I used to do in the past. That's better,” Kittel recently told German newspaper Sudkurier.
Kittel admitted that settling into a new sprint train has been a challenge but he believes that he is heading in the right direction. "The beginning of the year was tough and I was not as successful as I had hoped,” Kittel said. “Yet, I feel that I'm on the right track. Of course, I would have liked to win a few more races. But on the other hand, I do not think I have given it away in many places. It is also not easy to put a perfect sprint train on track in a relatively short time.
“We are working hard on it. Rick Zabel, Nils Politt and Tony Martin are super committed, but the loss of Marco Haller is a disadvantage.”
Katusha-Alpecin for the Tour de France: Ilnur Zakarin, Marcel Kittel, Rick Zabel, Tony Martin, Nils Politt, Ian Boswell, Robert Kiserlovski and Pavel Kochetcov.