In a big interview with the Russian about his career as a rider, published in Saturday’s L’Equipe, there are a couple of lines about Kittel, and they are far from forgiving.
“We pay him a lot of money but he is only interested in himself,” Konyshev says. “In Cholet, before the team time trial, he was playing with his phone during the team meeting, to let me know he wasn’t interested in what I was saying.”
It has been a trying Tour de France so far for Kittel, who has been unable to match his performances of last year, when he won five stages in the colours of Quick-Step.
Kittel finished third on the opening day and fifth on stage 4, but a mechanical problem ruled him out on stage 2 and on Friday’s stage 7 he didn’t feel good and let his lead-out man Rick Zabel contest the sprint while he finished at the very back of the peloton. It is also understood Kittel was unhappy with the point at which he was dropped by his teammates during the TTT.
Ahead of stage 8 on Saturday morning, Kittel answered questions from official broadcasters about the day ahead but refused to stay and speak about other matters. Post-stage Kittel was seen throwing down his bike on arrival at the Katusha-Alpecin bus after finishing 15th in the sprint.
Katusha team staff were clearly aware of the story and the impending fall-out as they parked up in Dreux for the start, with Sergey Outchakov returning from the hospitality village a copy of L’Equipe for Konychev to read.
Konyshev was in a light-hearted mood and clever with his replies when he spoke to Cyclingnews about the comments.
“Everyone’s on their phone now, - all day, every day,” he joked. “The problem is the telephone.”
As for his description of Kittel as “egotistical”, that was more flatly denied.
“Normally sprinters are all a bit egotistical, but he likes to help the team. Two days ago and yesterday he was in the front to help Ilnur be in a good position. We cannot complain against him.”
Konyshev suggested Kittel was “not ready” to win a stage, that something is not quite clicking for the German. He also made reference to the structure of the team, which is balanced between the interests of Kittel and those of Ilnur Zakarin, the team’s GC rider. Zakarin, a fellow Russian, is very close to Konyshev, while Kittel is closer to the German DS Torsten Schmidt.
“Maybe he’s not at 100 per cent, maybe he is missing his train from last year, because we have half the team for Ilnur and half the team for him,” said Konyshev. Normally at a big race it’s easier when you have only one leader. It’s difficult to ask [Pavel] Kochetkov and [Ian] Boswell to help in the finale, it’s not possible. We have two leaders and we need almost to split in two.
“But you can see the team works very good for him, so he cannot complain about this. Normally he’s a very good sprinter, but something does not work for the moment.”
Konyshev then headed onto the bus for that day’s team meeting, which was likely to have revolved around Kittel, Saturday’s stage being another chance for the sprinters before the opportunities dry up in the second half of the race.
“The team spirit is good,” he said. “I still believe Marcel can win a stage and maybe he can show everyone today.”
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