Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) seemed amused to rub shoulders with sprint rivals Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) at the Tirreno-Adriatico press conference on Tuesday. All of the hype and pre-race talk is still relatively new to him but he seems to be enjoying his place in the spotlight and the tag as the new king of the sprints.
"I'm happy to be in Italy. It's my first time at Tirreno-Adriatico. I'm expecting some nice sprints against Mark and Andre. We'll see what happens,” he said with a smile; his politeness and good manners hiding the aggression and power that emerges in a sprint finish.
Kittel hasn't raced since February 20th, when he retired from the Vuelta a Andalucía in Spain. Before that he had racked up 12 days of racing at the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Dubai, where he won three consecutive stages.
"After Dubai I was tired," he admitted when speaking to Cyclingnews.
"With all the travelling, I'd never had a chance to do some normal good training at home. That's important for me and so that's what I did since quitting the Vuelta a Andalucía. I'm feeling good now and so I'm confident we can have a very good Tirreno."
A good Tirreno-Adriatico would mean winning one of the three expected sprint finishes on stage two to Cascina on Thursday, in Arezzo on Friday or in Porto Sant'Elpidio on Monday. But with so many sprinters on the Tirreno-Adriatico start list, Kittel knows that lead out trains will be vital for victory.
The Giant-Shimano squad in Italy includes Kittel's key lead out man Tom Veelers, road captain Roy Curvers, plus rouleurs Simon Geschke, Tobias Ludvigsson and Tom Stamsnijder.
"There's going to be some great sprinting but they'll be very close and big battles," Kittel told Cyclingnews.
"Because there are so many good sprinters here and there's so little difference between me, Cavendish and Andre Greipel, that I think it'll be the lead out and teams that will make the difference between winning and losing."
Giant-Shimano has its own technique in the lead out wars.
"Every team has a different style to lead out a sprint," Kittel explained.
"Our way of doing it is to come late, to ride a very hard finale in the last two or three kilometres. It doesn't always work out but I think we're happy with how we do things."
No Milan-San Remo
The technique helped Kittel win 14 races in 2013, including four stages at the Tour de France and both the opening stage in Olbia and the final sprint on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Surprisingly Kittel will not target Milan-San Remo despite the late removal of the Pompeiana climb. He appears happy to share sprint leadership with teammate John Degenkolb, who has shown his excellent form at Paris-Nice.
"There are several reasons for it. My sprinter's heart would like to ride but the team has the goal with John as leader, which is totally fine with me," he explained.
"It's totally different if you go as a former winner or like Andre (Greipel) as a rider with lots of experience. I'm a beginner and that's why I'm not riding."