Road

Kittel announces return, Steegmans retires from the peloton

A lack of fitness kept Marcel Kittel out of the Tour de France, but he'll return to race at the Tour de Pologne next month

One high-profile rider announced his return to racing while another retired from the peloton on the day of the Tour de France’s 12th stage.

German sprinter Marcel Kittel, who was left off Giant-Alpecin’s Tour team because of a lack of fitness stemming from an illness he caught earlier this year, will return to action at the Tour de Pologne next month.

After the August 2-8 race, Kittel will race the Vattenfal Cyclassics and GP Ouest France-Plouay, one-day races slated for the end of August.

“I am looking forward to racing again after a good period of training at home,” Kittel said in a team release. “The Tour de Pologne is a nice race to get back into racing and gain rhythm. As a team, we will be aiming to win sprint stages in Poland.”

Kittel won four stages in each of the last two editions of the Tour de France.

Also announced Thursday was the retirement of 34-year-old Gert Steegmans, who rode for Trek Factory Racing this year. The Belgian spent 13 years in the professional peloton.

Steegmans has two Tour de France stage wins on his resume, in 2007 and 2008.

Steegmans said he thought about retiring from the sport after he crashed hard in the Driedaagse De Panne race earlier this season. He recently asked team management to release him from his contract.

“I have been playing with the thought of retirement since my crash in Driedaagse De Panne, when I ended up in an ambulance for the second time in three days,” said Steegmans, who also crashed hard in Gent-Wevelgem. “Then I was a week off the bike and started in Paris-Roubaix, which ended in another crash for me.

“One year ago I also considered retiring, but then Trek came along. I am thankful to Luca [Guercilena] for the chance he gave me last winter. He gave me an opportunity when I found myself without a team and I was hungry for a ride. I was brought in to add strength to the classics team and to watch over the young sprinters in the team — and I was very motivated to do well and prove my value.”

Steegmans said his final season as a professional was plagued by several injuries.

“The first part of the season was disappointing. It already started with a broken toe in Mallorca in January. Racing the Tour of Qatar was a bad decision, but I was the one who had insisted. From there on I struggled from injury to crash to injury. It never stopped.

“This sport has given me so much. I consider myself a lucky guy to have had so many lifetime experiences to cherish. I had a lot of fun along the way and met a lot of very nice people. That’s what I take away from this. I don’t like looking back much, I prefer looking forward.”