Marcel Kittel's health ahead of the fast-approaching Tour de France may have been impacted by a fever that caused him to pull out of the Giro d'Italia, but the Giant-Shimano sprinter, laid any doubts about his form to rest when he sprinted to the stage 1 win at the Ster ZLM Toer on Thursday in the Netherlands.
"I had a really good training period at altitude prior to this race but I still need a few race days to get the intensity back up and to get back into the rhythm," Kittel said following his victory. "It's great to get going with a win again."
Kittel heads into the Tour as one of the favorite sprinters having won four stages in last year's edition. He had a strong start to the season with five wins; three at the Tour of Dubai, one at Scheldeprijs and two at the Giro d’Italia. His stage win at Ster ZLM Toer, however, was his first since he pulled out of the Giro d'Italia nearly two months ago.
Before the Ster ZLM Toer started, Giant-Shimano's coach Rudi Kemna stated that the five-day race was intended to further build Kittel's form ahead of the Tour de France, which starts on July 5 in Leeds, Yorkshire.
After coming in fifth in the opening prologue, Kittel won the first stage sprint ahead of Garmin-Sharp's Tyler Farrar and Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Gianni Meersman in the 189km stage to Sint Willebrord. He also moved into the overall race lead, taking the yellow jersey off of prologue winner Philippe Gilbert's back.
"I'm really happy with today as I didn't feel that good early on and it took about 100km for the legs to open up," said Kittel. "After this, the feeling started to come back and as a team we nailed it today.
"The first job was staying together in the wet conditions but we managed this fine, and then in the final we were in formation and did just what we had planned – they set me up in a great position. I was at the front of the bunch when I started my sprint and the pace was already high so this made a big difference."
The Ster ZLM Toer concludes on Sunday in Boxtel.