Could Marcel Kittel return to the WorldTour in 2020 with Jumbo-Visma? That is a question first posed by the Dutch press last week, with the team now confirming that they have held early talks with the German sprinter.
Kittel had his 2019 contract with Katusha-Alpecin terminated in May after a difficult 18 months that saw him fail to reach his potential. On the back of the Katusha split, the 14-time Tour de France stage winner announced he would take a break from professional cycling, but Jumbo-Visma have already talked to him about a possible return.
Kittel worked with Jumbo-Visma director Merijn Zeeman during their time together at Team Giant-Alpecin and recently began a dialogue with his former colleague.
"I’ve always remained in contact with him over the last few years because we’ve always had a relationship," Zeeman told Cyclingnews.
"Most of the time the contact isn’t about cycling but about life. After it was clear he was going to be released by Katusha, we discussed the idea of him joining our team but the most important thing for Marcel is to be clear on what he wants for the future. Does he want to be in top sport or does he want a different direction for his life? That’s still the process for him and we’ve not discussed things further."
Zeeman is under no illusion at that the 31-year-old Kittel can return to his former glory. He had a difficult year in 2015 before moving to QuickStep and enjoying two of the best years of his career. For Zeeman, it all depends on Kittel’s level of motivation.
"Physically, yes," Zeeman replied when asked if Kittel could return to the top of the sport.
"There’s no question about that; the question is whether he has the same fire in himself. The only one who can answer that question is Marcel, himself. I’ve no doubt that if he has the fire then he can be a top sprinter like he was."
Zeeman also believes that hiring Kittel would not pose a problem for Jumbo-Visma’s existing lead sprinter, Dylan Groenewegen. The Dutchman has established himself as one of the fastest riders in the peloton over the last two seasons and has already picked up seven wins this year.
According to Zeeman, Kittel and Groenewegen could coexist within the team and split the calendar, although Groenewegen would have the leadership role at the biggest races.
"It’s clear that Dylan is our leader and there’s no doubt about that. Over the coming years, he is our man but every team wants to win as much as possible and Marcel can play a role in that. That can be a good thing for his balance and it’s totally open," he said.
"Dylan would be our sprinter for the biggest races, that’s 100 per cent clear. Marcel wouldn’t be a lead-out, that’s a different job, but if you look at the WorldTour there’s enough opportunity to still do high quality and beautiful races. Now we go to many races without a sprinter, for example, Tour de Suisse. It’s a very big race but we could use a sprinter there."