Kittel won stage one and stage four at the Dubai Tour. The ten-second time bonuses he collected for each victory were important for his overall success but it was his huge effort on the 17 per cent ramp to the edge of Hatta Dam that ensured he stayed within reach of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) before the final stage and his winning sprint.
Kittel emulated former teammate John Degenkolb on the steep climb, using his power and anaerobic sprinting ability to defy the pull of gravity and finish in the slipstream of the Italian, Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. Both collapsed to the ground after their effort in the steep climb, with Kittel gasping for air as he fought the pain in his legs and lungs. Degenkolb went on to win Milan-San Remo last year but Kittel quickly stopped any idea he could or would go on to achieve the same success in La Classicissima.
"The Poggio is longer than the 200-metre climb to Hatta Dama," Kittel joked to make his point clear but quickly turning serious about his decision to skip Milan-San Remo.
"I don't honestly think it suits me, at least with the changes they made to the route. It's too tough for the sprinters now. I think the last time a really pure sprinter won it was Cavendish back in 2009. Every year there's bad weather or something. It's getting harder and harder and it's the same in general, other races are getting harder too."
Race organiser RCS Sport, who also organise the Dubai Tour reassured Cyclingnews that this year's Milan-San Remo will stay as per recent tradition, with only the Turchino, Cipressa and Poggio, the real climbs in the near 300km route.
Despite the likes of Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi and other power sprinters winning Milan-San Remo over the years, Kittel does not think he is ready to try his hand. However, he may one day try to secure his place in the pantheon on great sprinters. "There is also a moment where I have to set my priorities and that's my decision for this year and for now," he explained logically. "I'm not saying I'll never ride Milan-San Remo but for me, it's not a hard choice to make. I think I have better opportunities elsewhere."
Sensing he may be limiting his career potential and admitting he may never expand his ambitions beyond stage race sprints, Kittel admitted the so-called sprinter's Classic is on his list of goals.
"It's a goal to start it at least once in my career, I wouldn't want to finish my career without riding it," he said. "But I want be competitive if I ride and it's difficult with the current profile."
Giro d'Italia on the horizon but Gent-Wevelgem unlikely
Like many big-name riders and team, Kittel and Etixx-Quickstep are cautious about revealing details of the German's race calendar. They perhaps want to play down expectations after his difficult 2015 season and also need to understand how the likes of Tom Boonen perform early in 2016 before finalising their goals and squads for the spring Classics.
"I'll ride the Volta ao Algarve later this month and then Paris-Nice. After that I'm not really sure," he said, dodging questions about Gent-Wevelgem and Scheldeprijs.”
Kittel did confirm he would ride the Giro d'Italia in May, perhaps in a slight slip from team protocol.
He is likely to target the sprint stages in the first two weeks and use the daily racing to build the foundations of his form for the Tour de France after racing so little in 2015. An on-form Kittel at the Giro d'Italia is good news for organiser RCS Sport. He has ridden five Grand Tours so far in his career but struggled in the 2014 Giro d'Italia. He won the stages to Belfast and Dublin but then fell ill during the transfer to Italy and failed to start stage four to Bari.
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