German sprinter Marcel Kittel narrowly took out round one against compatriot Andre Greipe at the People's Choice Classic in what is certain to be the first of many showdowns during the 2014 UCI WorldTour season. The People’s Choice Classic, a 25-lap, 50-kilomtere criterium to open the weeklong Tour Down Under in Adelaide, South Australia was just another notch on Kittel's proverbial belt. The 25-year-old from Arnstadt is quickly gaining a reputation of slaying giants.
Last year, Kittel garnered global attention and admiration by winning four stages at the Tour de France and ending Mark Cavendish’s stranglehold over the Champs-Élysées. Kittel’s victory squashed the Manx Missiles’ chances of a fifth-straight win in Paris. On Sunday, Kittel squared off against the Tour Down Under’s winningest stage rider and came out on top, and told Cyclingnews that he owes it all to the efforts of his team – Giant-Shimano.
"I am really proud of how it all worked out for the team," he said. "After a few laps I knew directly that I had a good feeling for the course, and that the team was dialled in. In the end it was really great teamwork."
Kittel says that while Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol squad has undoubtedly developed one of the peloton’s best lead-out trains, arguably on par with Cavendish’s 2012 Sky Pro Cycling team and his HTC squads from 2008-2011, he believes his Giant-Shimano is quickly becoming one of the cycling’s most dangerous sprint trains.
"Not every rider is good at doing a lead out, he said. "You need a certain mentality and experience. You need an eye for where you have to be and how the race works. Every year we are taking very important steps and improving our lead-out train, and I think the highlight was definitely last year in Tour de France where we proved we belong among the world’s best."
Having had name sponsor Argos announce that it was ceasing sponsorship of the team in October, team manager Iwan Spekenbrink secured a new sponsor for the next three years only for the unnamed company to pull out after the UCI registration deadline had passed. New bike sponsor Giant stepped up its commitment and became the new naming sponsor for the Dutch outfit.
With the criterium now behind him, Kittel understands that more encounters with Greipel await, but has intently targeted stages four and six as potential opportunities to podium.
"I am especially looking forward to the sprint stage to Victor Harbour on stage four Friday," said Kittel of the 148.5km race that ends with a 20km finale off the descent from Myponga on Reservoir Road. "The criterium on stage six also suits me."
With stage one being given the green light to proceed by race director Mike Turtur on Monday afternoon after being in doubt due to an outbreak of bushfires, Kittel will now do his best to survive Menglers Hill and race in support of teammate Simon Geschke whom he believes gives Giant-Shimano its best hopes for victory.
"If Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans attacks on Menglers Hill, I will be in serious trouble," said Kittel of the 2.6km climb at the 123km mark in which the first KOM points of 2014 will be awarded. "We have other riders, like Simon Geschke, that can follow him and still do good at the finish."
Once the dust settles at the Tour Down Under, Kittel will set his sights on the Tour de France with hopes of taking two opening stages – and thus the yellow jersey – in back to back years.
"I have big goals this year, especially with the Tour de France," he said. "I have an opportunity to take the yellow jersey on the opening stage for the second year in a row. I don’t know if that has ever been done before and that is motivation enough."