Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) will swap Tirreno-Adriatico for Paris-Nice this month as he looks to get his sprint firing again this season. Kittel had been penned in for the Italian race but made a late decision to ride Paris-Nice due to its higher number of sprint stages.
After a difficult 2018 campaign, which brought in just two wins, Kittel got his year off to a strong start with victory at the Trofeo Palma, his second race of the year. He has come close to adding a second with a runner-up spot at the Clasica de Almeria and third in a blanket bunch finish on stage 5 of the UAE Tour.
Kittel is expected to line-up alongside Ilnur Zakarin at Paris-Nice, but the Russian is an uncertainty after he fell sick following the penultimate stage of the UAE Tour. Paris-Nice will offer up three more clear-cut opportunities for Kittel, compared to the more classics-style Tirreno-Adriatico parcours.
"I think that it was a very nice start to the season and everyone was happy, I was happy, and I still am happy about that. It's a good motivation for what is coming," Kittel told Cyclingnews of his opening victory in Mallorca.
"I will try to follow my race plan as good as possible, I want to go for the victories and good performances together with the team. My next race will be Paris-Nice, that's a change that we made [last] week, so I will go there."
Mallorca, at the end of January, marked his return to racing after more than five months. Kittel called a premature end to his year following his abandon at the Deutschland Tour at the end of August, with just an appearance at the Saitama and Shanghai Criteriums in November breaking up the long hiatus.
The early end to the season allowed Kittel to take a step back and approach the new season with fresh eyes, and legs.
"It was really good for me because I could relax. I started early with my training and I could follow my plan, and everything was going according to the plan and that was really nice," Kittel said. "For me, the most important thing was to get that extra recovery and I think that really helped me, just to be able to work again according to the plan to get the right feeling was the most important thing I guess."
It wasn't just Kittel that struggled last season, the Katusha-Alpecin team as a whole failed to fire in 2018. Over the winter, general manager Jose Azevedo worked to make some key changes in order to turn their fortune around. There were a handful of changes in the team's rider line-up, but they also brought in former sprint coach – and former rider – Erik Zabel as the performance director.
Zabel and Kittel have been working together over the winter and was behind the wheel in Mallorca when Kittel netted his first win of the season. Kittel is happy to have access to the wealth of knowledge that Zabel brings with him, but says that he's still doing things his own way when it comes to stage finales.
"He is a good support for us in general when it comes to the sprint, he has a lot of knowledge there. I think it's good to have him on our side," said Kittel.
"We talk a lot about the finals. He knows a lot of the races that he did himself perfectly in his head. He still has knowledge about which corner to be in front on and where not. I think that's an advantage. When it comes to the sprint itself, I think that every sprinter also has his own opinion. Of course, we talk about it, but I still try to follow my own way."
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