The German might not be a favouite for Friday’s opening 9.8km time trial in Apeldoorn, but if he can hold his own then the following two sprint stages – where bonus seconds are available – represent a chance to don the maglia rosa, which would go alongside the maillot jaune he’s already worn in the Tour de France.
“It’s a possibility, but I don’t want to create a situation where I say I really have to go for pink,” said Kittel at the Etixx-QuickStep team’s pre-race press conference on Thursday. “But if there’s a chance I’d be really happy to take it. If not, no worries.”
For that reason, Kittel insists he will “give everything on Friday” in order to leave himself in the best possible position. He described the flat 9.8km Apeldoorm course as “super fast” and “not technically challenging”, and his power will be an advantage over the relatively short distance.
“I’m not a GC guy but if there is an opportunity that would make it possible, it would be great to try at least - that’s the mentality I have for the time trial," he said. "I will just try to give everything, then see where I end up.”
Kittel may, understandably, have been cagey about the enticing prospect of wearing pink, but he was bold enough to emblazon his intentions on a special Giro wristband, which he’s also handed out to all of his teammates.
Each bracelet is engraved with riders' names along with the words ‘We fight for pink & glory!” Gianluca Brambilla has finished in the top 15 at Grand Tours before but Etixx haven’t come to the Giro with a GC contender so Kittel would seem the most likely to fulfill that battle statement.
“We are already a really good team that is working really well together but I personally like, especially for the first Grand Tour of the year, to maybe have a little extra,” said the 27-year-old explaining the wristbands.
“It’s nothing big, but it’s something that could bring the team a bit closer, because we have to spend three weeks together and there will be ups and downs, and maybe that’s a reminder we fight for each other and also that we will survive the bad moments.”
"I don't fear anyone"
Kittel’s Giro won’t be made or broken by the pink jersey. Stage wins are a sprinter’s bread and butter, and there are no fewer than seven opportunities on offer over the course of this Giro.
When asked if he has studied the route carefully, he picked up a copy of Il Garibaldi – the roadbook – and joked that he’s about to start doing so, before giving the more honest reply that the abundance of sprint stages are what drew him here in the first place.
That’s true of many others, too, and consequently the race is packed full of sprinting talent, with Mark Cavendish and Fernando Gaviria two members of only a very brief list of absentees. Kittel, whose annus horribilis of 2015 seems firmly behind him, has returned to his perch at the top of the sprinting hierarchy, notably demonstrated when he beat a strong field at Scheldeprijs for the sixth of his seven victories so far this campaign. As such, he is widely recognised as the man to beat over the coming three weeks.
“When I compare 2014 and now, this year is my best year ever in my career,” said the German, giving a telling indication of his confidence in his form and later declaring: "I don't fear anyone.
“I’m on a good path. I don’t know if it’s possible to say I’m back to the shape of the Tour de France [in 2014] because it's hard to compare, but for the moment, with the results I’ve got this year I can be very confident going into the race.”
Kittel did, however, temper expectations slightly by describing the team around him as ‘inexperienced’. He has lead-out man Fabio Sabatini for support, and also Matteo Trentin, but 33-year-old Maximiliano Richeze is absent.
“This team is not what you’d immediately call an experienced lead-out team but it’s a very strong one still,” he said, later adding that he has won this year with a variety of support riders.
“We were successful in a combination you’d expect, with experienced riders, but also successful in races like Scheldeprijs, or Romandie, with some riders who never really did a leadout. So we’re able to react quick and good, and that’s very promising and gives everyone a lot of confidence.”
Kittel has ridden two road stages at the Giro in his career – both in 2014 when the race started in Northern Ireland – and he won both of them. The next challenge will be to win on Italian soil and if his form is anything to go by, he could enhance his palmares considerably this month.
While other sprinters have pulled out part-way through the Giro with the Tour de France in mind, Kittel was emphatic when asked how far he’d be going: “Until the end.”
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