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UTRECHT, Netherlands (AFP) — Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb claims he is feeling no more pressure ahead of the Tour de France despite the fact that his Giant-Alpecin team will not have sprint king Marcel Kittel.
The last two years, burly German Kittel won four stages in each Tour, including both the first and last.
The entire Giant team was built around bringing him to the sprint finishes on flat stages with the best possible lead-out train — and Kittel rarely failed to deliver the final punch to the line.
But the 27-year-old has been suffering from illness this year and only really started his season in May, at which point he was always struggling to be fit to make the Tour start.
Giant coach Christian Guiberteau said the Tour has just come a touch too early for Kittel.
“We knew it wasn’t ideal because he had to catch up. We had all the team around him to give him confidence, but in the end we decided there was too much risk,” said Guiberteau.
“He really had to be in super form, especially this year with the course, which is very tough for sprinters. We believed he had a good training camp and then he came back before the Sierra Nevada camp and then went to the [Ster ZLM Toer], and we said we’ll see.
“But there you go, he was coming back but not quickly enough — he needed another month.”
It means Degenkolb will be the main man for the German outfit, not only in the flat stages where they would normally have been planning to set up Kittel for the bunch sprint, but also on the intermediate or rolling stages in which the lead peloton that reaches the line tends to be reduced.
Rolling courses are the kinds of stages that ideally suit Degenkolb who is not a pure out-and-out sprinter but rather a one-day classics specialist, capable of a fast burst to the line but also with the strength to get over short climbs that tend to spit sprinters out the back of the peloton.
“Marcel [Kittel] is not here so I have more responsibility to be the lead sprinter in the flat stages. I’m probably not the biggest favorite in these kind of sprints; that’s not my best quality, but with a great team behind me and a lead-out that gives me an advantage over other riders, I see great chances to compete in flat sprints,” said Degenkolb, although he admitted he hadn’t expected this opportunity.
“It was in the end, of course, a surprise [that Kittel was dropped]. I trained a lot with him and was a long time with him together. I saw his progression and knew it would be really tight for the Tour, but still it was a surprise because it’s a big step to make a decision like this.”
Degenkolb may have won some prestigious races such as Milan-San Remo in March, Paris-Roubaix in April, Gent-Wevelgem last year and nine Vuelta a España stages since 2012, but he has yet to win a Tour stage — something he hopes to rectify this month.
“Basically, the general goal is to win a stage. The goal hasn’t changed but if there’s the possibility to go for the green jersey, definitely I will try it and will not leave chances on the ground.”
And Degenkolb, 26, already has certain stages in mind such as stage 6 from Abbeville to Le Havre with its three category 4 climbs and slight uphill finish.
“There are these stages where you maybe have to survive a climb before the finish line and be there in a reduced group of 30, 40, or 50 riders. I think that would be the chances where I have the best qualities to win a stage, but also flat stages are not bad for us with Koen de Kort, Ramon Sinkeldam, Albert Timmer, and Roy Curvers. We have a very experienced team.”