So far this season Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) has gone about adding layer upon layer to the notion that his annus horriblis of 2015 is definitively a thing of the past, and his victory on the second stage of the Giro d'Italia marked another symbolic milestone in his return to the top of the sprinting ranks.
The German had already won seven races so far this season, taking in 2.1, HC, and WorldTour races, along with the one-day Scheldeprijs Classic, but while most had long declared him 'back', the man himself still needed more confirmation.
"After a difficult year, back to winning in a Grand Tour. That's something that means a lot to me," he said, beaming in his post-stage press conference.
Kittel won four stages at the 2013 Tour de France, before taking two at the Giro the following year and going onto to notch a further four at the Tour. It made the 2015 slump, in which he didn't even ride a Grand Tour, all the more baffling, but he's back winning in the big time at the first time of asking.
"I didn't think about how special it would be to win here, but it's definitely one of the most beautiful wins," he added.
The 10 bonus seconds for the win moved Kittel to within touching distance – a solitary second – of Tom Dumoulin's overall lead and the prospect of taking the pink jersey from Holland to Italy has gone from vaguely possible, to doable, to probable.
Ever since arriving in Holland for this Giro, the 27-year-old has been cagey and non-committal about the prospect, even when his storming opening-day time trial teed it up. Though he now just needs a podium finish in the probable bunch sprint on tomorrow's similar flat stage, he remained insistent it was far from the front of his mind.
"I don't know the answer," was his response when the 'pink' question came his way.
"I will put on my race suit on again tomorrow morning… Oh no actually no, I will put only my bibshorts on tomorrow and then my red jersey," he added, referring to his newfound status as leader of the points classification.
"That's already nice. Then we will see what happens at the finish line. The main priority is the sprint and making that right."
Just minutes before Kittel arrived for his press conference, Tom Dumoulin said that if he had to give up the pink jersey, then he could think of no person he’d rather it go to than Kittel.
The pair used to be teammates at Giant-Alpecin and, despite Kittel's sudden departure last year with a year left on his contract, the relationship between team and former rider seems strong. Kittel recounted how he paid a visit to their bus at the start of the stage in Arnhem, where jokes about the pink jersey were exchanged, though the competitive element to the relationship will surface once again tomorrow when the maglia rosa is truly at stake.
"I congratulated them for having the pink jersey at home, it's always nice to show that in front of your home crowd. It's an important win for the team and for me it was important to see them doing well, too," Kittel said.
"But now we are also rivals. Of course, there were jokes like 'Tom get bonus seconds', but they know it's a race, we're all here to race, and there are no bad feelings if that situation came up. We maybe have to take advantage of that."
"The confidence is really, really big"
Kittel described how today's finish, slightly downhill, was "perfect" for him to "really show my speed" and in the end the winning margin was utterly convincing.
His rivals, then, many of whom already said before the race that he was the strongest, won't take comfort from his statement of intent ahead of Sunday's stage 3. Kittel spoke of how the finish was similar to today’s, and added that confidence is coursing through the Etixx-QuickStep ranks.
"Tomorrow is again a super fast sprint after you come down the bridge, so it's something that suits my style," he said.
"After today the confidence is really, really big, for me and for the team. I would like to underline that. It's important for my teammates to know that we can be successful now in this race, even with a combination of riders where the experience is maybe not the highest.
"We fought our way to the win today and we will have the same mentality tomorrow."
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