Marcel Kittel will not ride this year’s Tour de France as his fitness level is not yet sufficient following a long illness. The German, who won four stages of the 2014 Tour and had a stint in the yellow jersey, has been struggling with his fitness since falling ill after the Tour Down Under in January.
“Of course I am disappointed about not participating in the Tour de France this year. But I will have to look ahead and focus on new goals,” said Kittel. He added further detail on his website: "Not being nominated is without doubt the most difficult time of my career. The forced pause this spring was already not easy. Although there were times I wanted to just throw in the towel, I tried to stay strong and find a way. This is just another blow to me, that I didn’t earn my team’s trust for a Tour nomination. It is not a good situation but on the other hand, instructive. I will learn to cope with it and thereby I will also grow.
Kittel has hardly raced this season, completing just 19 days of racing so far. After racing in Australia, and winning the opening criterium race, he rode the Tour of Qatar but failed to feature in any of the bunch sprints. After a long lay-off period, Kittel returned to racing at the Tour de Yorkshire but abandoned less than 100 kilometres into the first stage. He completed his first race at the World Ports Classic at the end of May and received a confidence boost with sixth place at the Rund um Köln.
Kittel had hoped to prove his form at the Ster ZLM Toer but did not feature on any of the sprint finishes won by André Greipel and Moreno Hofland. The Giant-Alpecin team has decided that his fitness level is not good enough to tackle the three-week long Tour de France, opting for a different final nine-rider line-up.
“He was ill during the spring and then Marcel and our coaches and trainers worked really hard in a short time to really improve his level and get him at a good point. In that period, a lot of progression has been made but the time was too short ultimately,” Giant-Alpecin team manager Iwan Spekenbrink told Cyclingnews. “If we look to how he has increased his level, his sprints are already at a good level but what we mostly fear is that his basic fitness is too fragile at the moment.”
“It’s a major disappointment for Marcel himself but also for the team and everybody around the team. He’s been very successful for us over the past few years and a rider with such a special talent you wish to see at the Tour de France.”
Kittel made his debut at the Tour de France back in 2012 but was forced to abandon on stage five after suffering with a stomach problem during the early stages. His return to the race a year later was much more fruitful as he stormed to the opening stage to earn himself a day in yellow. He went on to claim three more sprint victories and ended Mark Cavendish’s run of wins on the Champs-Élysées. He had a repeat performance last year and would have been expected to be a big sprint contender had he made it into the line-up.
While the loss of Kittel is a blow for the team, they said that they could not take any risks. “The Tour de France is a hard race and a very high level race… We have to look how much the overall makes the team stronger or weaker,” explained Spekenbrink. “There is a risk that he could have to leave the Tour early and that would weaken the chances of his teammates.”
It is not clear where Kittel will race next and he is due to sit down with the team to plan his programme for the second half of the season.
The Tour starts in Utrecht on Saturday, July 4.
To subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel, click here.