Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) won’t be starting Friday’s 13th stage of the Vuelta a España, but the big German sprinter can leave with his head held high.
Too tired to carry on, the 23-year-old German will exit the Vuelta after making a big impression in his grand tour debut. Kittel kicked to victory in Talavera de la Reina in stage 7 in what was the only “true” field sprint so far in this Vuelta.
“I am sad to go home, I really wanted to finish, but I am too tired,” Kittel said after Thursday’s stage. “To get one victory in my first grand tour is incredible. I want to thank the organizers for inviting us. In the coming years, I hope to be able to finish all three weeks.”
Kittel ran out of gas in Thursday’s stage, finishing 81st after getting dropped 10km from the finish line at Pontevedra. Ski-Shimano brought him back to the bunch as it roared for the sprint finish, but he faded on a rising finale and could not contest for a shot at victory.
“I was already dropped 10km before the end of the stage. My team brought me back in the peloton,” he said. “They helped me really well, but I was just not strong enough anymore to stay at the front with the best sprinters.”
The big German, whose bulk and towering presence made him stand out in a peloton full of scrawny climbers at the Vuelta, has scored 13 victories in his very impressive first season among the elite ranks.
His first win came at the Tour de Langkawi, which he followed up with four wins at the Four Days of Dunkirk after starting Paris-Roubaix and sprinting to second at Rund um Koln behind another hot new sprinter, Michael Matthews of Australia.
Next, he won a stage and the overall at the Delta Tour Zeeland in June before coming back at the Tour of Poland, where he four stages and wore the leader’s jersey for three days.
Kittel says he will rest up and prepare for the world road cycling championships, where he said “I believe (Germany) can win a medal.”
Germany, indeed, will have its strongest worlds team in a generation. Also expected to start are Gerard Ciolek, Fabian Wegmann and John Degenkolb.
Degenkolb, second in Thursday’s bunch sprint, is set to join Kittel next season at Skil-Shimano and the pair should be lighting up the sprints.
“We will ride for Marcel in the pure sprints. He’s much faster than me,” Degenkolb said. “He’s big and he’s fast. We rode together as amateurs and he will have a big future. For me, I like the classics and uphill sprints, so we will have no problem riding together on the same team.”
Young riders such as Degenkolb and Kittel will also be a boost for German cycling, which has seen most of its major sponsors leave the sport following a string of high-profile doping scandals among the German peloton.
Kittel certainly has the natural charisma to attract the attention of fans. At the Vuelta, at least, he was often the center of attention among the podium girls who were all wanting to get their photo taken with the big sprinter.
No wonder he was so sad to leave the Vuelta.