Kittel shows further signs of improvement at Clasica de Almeria

Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) has already bagged what was his first race victory for 11 months at the Trofeo Palma earlier this month, and came very close to taking a second win at the Clasica de Almeria on Sunday, where he was just beaten by Bora-Hansgrohe's Pascal Ackermann.

Kittel ended his 2018 season after the opening stage of the Deutschland Tour in August, having suffered a season in which he felt fatigued and unable to perform at his best.

While he'd taken two stage wins at Tirreno-Adriatico last March, the 30-year-old failed to fire for the rest of the season.

It was in stark contrast to his 2017 season, when he'd taken 14 wins, including five stage victories at the Tour de France. But while tests revealed no medical reasons for his fatigue, Kittel's Katusha-Alpecin team allowed him to finish his 2018 season early in order to rest and recuperate.

Now, he appears to be returning to something close to his best, with Katusha-Alpecin having enlisted former pro sprinter Erik Zabel as their performance director for 2019.

"I've been working closely with Marcel for three months now and I've liked everything I've seen so far," Zabel said after Kittel's win at the Trofeo Palma. "Since December 1, we've been training and focused on this new season, not looking back, and today was a nice moment to see the results of everyone's efforts."

Kittel was only very narrowly beaten by his compatriot – and German national road race champion – Ackermann in Almeria on Sunday, and now heads to the UAE Tour on Sunday with somewhat of a spring in his step.

"Generally, I have to say that this was a good day for us," Kittel said on his team's website. "The team worked great together and my legs felt good. Especially in the climbs in the first half of the race, where other teams wanted to drop us, our climbers like Dani Navarro supported me very well, and we were able to control the race.

"When Mitchelton-Scott set the pace with 100km to go to the finish, the peloton split apart. Then I had Simon Špilak and Marco Haller with me, and [we were] sitting in the wheel of the Mitchelton squad.

"Pascal was very strong and did a super sprint," said Kittel. "There was a slight right turn to the finish line, and I had to go the longer way around at the end. That was maybe the small difference. Of course, I always want to win, but I leave southern Spain with a good feeling. My shape is good, and today's race is great motivation for more in the UAE Tour this coming week."

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