As Marcel Kittel sprinted to victory on the final stage of the Dubai Tour, taking the overall success in the process, he not only distanced many of his rivals but also his own doubts and the question marks that lingered after his troubled 2015 season.
The German joked that shaking hands with soccer legend Diego Maradona on the final podium might help his ball skills but he proved that he does not need any help with his sprinting.
“2016 is a new chapter for me with a new team and new people. It’s really, really great to start like this. I’m super happy and super thankful for the support from the new team during the winter and from my teammates here. This is a very important victory for me,” Kittel explained in the post-race press conference.
“I’m happy with my two stage wins and of the course with the GC win. It doesn’t happen often for a sprinter. But we’ve got to keep calm; it’s only the beginning of February and the season runs until October. I can be sure that my form is good and the team fits well but the real challenges are still ahead of us.
“My goal now is to still have some highlights to come in 2016. The biggest driving force is having a new team and trying to prove myself after 2015, and trying to show the world my talent and how good I can be.”
Kittel’s decision to leave Giant-Alpecin for Etixx-QuickStep was not taken lightly. The 27-year-old's sprinting style is all about muscle but he’s a sensitive person and had grown attached to the team that had helped him develop into one of the best sprinters in the peloton. He still finds it difficult to talk about his decision.
“It came late in the season and it wasn’t an easy decision,” Kittel said. “If I’m very honest, it was hard to leave the riders I had at Giant-Alpecin but yeah, in the end I had that stomach feeling that it would have been hard to stay for both parties and so it was good we reached a mutual agreement to go separate ways.
“I’m happy about my choice to go to Etixx-QuickStep. There’s a good atmosphere with the staff and everyone. They have the same focus and same ambitions as I have. I want to perform in sport as good as possible, I want to win races and be as professional as possible. I think we’re a very good fit and the results here show that it is.”
He refuses to make any comparisons between his old and new teams, seemingly out of respect for his success with Giant-Alpecin.
"You can’t compare the two teams and I don’t want to compare them,” he said. “I had very, very nice memories and victories with my old team. Of course if you'd told I’d break up my contract at the end of the year, I wouldn’t have believed it but this is what happened.
"Now I can look back to a nice experience with them. I turned professional with them, I won on the Champs Elysees twice with them, I got the yellow jersey with them. We had some great victories, especially when you consider how we grew as a team. Now there’s a new challenge ahead and a new chapter. That’s also good to have a fresh wind, if you say it like that.”
Kittel revealed he has made contact with John Degenkolb and the other riders involved in the team's recent training crash but has preferred to let them recover quietly from the shock of what happened.
“When I heard it the news I went pale in the face. It was really bad. I didn’t dare to call the guys yet because I think it’s better they’ll left to recover mentally but of course I wish them and all the team the best,” he said.