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A conversation with Sun Tour stage winner Marcel Kittel: Renaissance man

DRYSDALE, Australia (VN) — Along with Tony Martin and John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel is one of a handful of riders leading a renaissance in German cycling, following the ignominious exit of Jan Ullrich.

2011 Vuelta a España, stage 7, Marcel Kittel
Kittel's stage win at the 2011 Vuelta. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

DRYSDALE, Australia (VN) — Along with Tony Martin and John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel is one of a handful of riders leading a renaissance in German cycling, following the ignominious exit of Jan Ullrich.

The flaxen-coiffed, hulk-sized sprinter from Arnstadt, a town in central Germany with a population of 25,000, has experienced a precocious neo-pro season — not dissimilar to those of newly crowned world champion Mark Cavendish or Robbie McEwen — suggesting that, in years to come, he could well emulate his more established contemporaries.

Twenty-three-year-old Kittel’s 16-win spate of success includes four stages apiece of the Four Days of Dunkirk and Tour of Poland, stage 7 of the Vuelta a España —beating Peter Sagan, Oscar Freire and Daniele Bennati — the Championship of Flanders, and, just Friday, the third stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

It was unsurprising, then, to hear that he had received a number of offers to ride for a team other than his incumbent, Skil-Shimano — who next year will undergo an acronymic name change to ‘Project 1t4i,’ standing for team spirit, inspiration, integrity, improvement and innovation. But nonetheless, he’s decided to stick with them.

“There were offers, but at the moment, I’m really, really happy with Skil and I want to develop with together the team,” Kittel told VeloNews. “And I hope we have a nice future.”

How does he think his soon-to-be bolstered team will fare in their quest for one of 18 ProTeam licences for the 2012 season?

“I hope they get it. But if it’s not (the case) it’s still not a problem, because I think it’s good for us to stay one more year Pro Continental. It’s good to (further) develop the riders, and then, yeah, we can make the big step.”

One needs to exercise a degree of caution when assessing Kittel’s potential — he is a first-year pro, after all. Not to mention the fact that in his first elite road race world championship in Copenhagen a few weeks ago, after 266 kilometers, he rolled in second-last – over nine minutes behind Cavendish – even though the rider he ‘beat’ was this year’s Paris-Roubaix champion, Johan Van Summeren.

“It was unbelievably fast, unbelievably hectic. In the end, it was a really, really hard race,” said Kittel of his long day out.

“I had really good shape at the Vuelta, but after that race, it was difficult to get in really good condition again. For me, it was more about the experience in that race.”

How long does he reckon it will take to match the likes of Cavendish, André Greipel and Matthew Goss on a regular basis? Is distance or his turn of speed the biggest factor?

“First, you need the chance to ride against them. I’m really looking forward to (next year’s) Tour de France, when we do that race, to have the chance to sprint against Cavendish. It’s a big challenge, but I want to prove myself there.”


Editor’s Note: Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than 10 Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story.