Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) may be amused to hear that he has been named as one of 10 special ‘Giro sights’ by the local Belfast Telegraph newspaper. If the German sprint star has anything to do with it, he will be hitting the headlines by leading his rivals across the line in the Giro d'Italia sprints. He celebrates his 26th birthday on Sunday and so a victory in Dublin would be a perfect way to celebrate.
The 25-year-old has taken four wins this season already: three in the Dubai Tour and the fourth, for the third year running, in the Scheldeprijs in Belgium last month. However, it is arguably Kittel's results in the 2013 Tour de France, with four sprint stage wins, that makes the German the rider to beat on the Giro d'Italia flat stages.
“I’m now in my second part of the season, with the Giro as a highlight and I’m feeling very confident,” Kittel, whose Giant-Shimano squad also have a reasonable chance of victory in the opening team time trial on Friday, too, said at the official pre-race press conference.
“I’ve had a good start to the season, having rounded off the first part in the Scheldeprijs and I’m very confident I can do good things here, too.”
When asked if sprints in the Giro d'Italia are different to the Vuelta - where he took his first Grand Tour win back in 2011, or the Tour de France, Kittel replied: “I have no idea what is going to happen here.”
“it’s a bike race, and I know my team is good at sprinting. So we’ll stick to our usual plan.”
Elia Viviani (Cannondale) will be one bunch sprint opponent, Kittel concurred, “particularly after doing so well in the Tour of Turkey,” - where the Italian took two stages. Kittel could equally have named in-form veteran Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Davide Appollonio (Ag2r-La Mondiale) or Francesco Chicchi (Neri Sottoli).
Kittel’s objective of a Giro d'Italia stage win would complete his ‘set’ of Grand Tour wins, “and that’s something very important. These early flat stages are where my expectations are highest.”
“I always say that the pressure is only as big as you make it yourself, but of course the situation changed for me after taking those four [Tour] stages. Still, we try to focus on our normal work and normal way of preparing the sprint and we can’t do anything else. Of course the expectations are higher, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Two Grand Tours in one season?
Kittel was asked about his decision to tackle two Grand Tours in the same season, a choice which varies radically with that taken by Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who has opted to race the Tour of California rather than the Giro d'Italia. It will be the first time Cavendish has missed out on the Italian race since 2010.
“My opinion is that it is possible to do both Giro and Tour, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Kittel said. “I talked it over with my team, I saw there were a lot of opportunities for sprinters, at least until the second rest day, and that’s a nice offer from the race. That’s why we said it would be good to be here.”
“I definitely have the Tour in my mind as well, but first I want to concentrate on here.”
Irish sprint finishes
Of the two mass start Irish stages on Saturday and Sunday, Kittel said that “we have both of them as a highlight for the team, but Saturday’s not so sure because of the weather.”
“If there’s a crash and the bunch splits in the weather, then maybe you are dropped and can go nowhere for the win. So we have pay a lot of attention and try to go for the sprint.”
Kittel recognised that for Ireland as a whole, the Giro d'Italia had a role to play in bringing together its people in a complex and sometimes tumultuous political situation to enjoy something in common.
“That’s basically one of the meanings of sport in my eyes, the Olympics have those big values too, and you can translate that to political situations like here with the Giro. It’ll be nice to be part of that.”