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Kittel expects Cavendish to bounce back

The former world champ is off to a rough start, but Marcel Kittel expects a dogfight with Omega Pharma and Lotto for the sprints

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DUBAI (VN) — The hyped showdown between Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel at the Dubai Tour fizzled last week.

The big German ace won all three sprints in impressive fashion while Cavendish didn’t manage to contest even one following a string of mishaps and misfires.

“This is the best start of a season in my career,” Kittel said. “To win all three stages was even better than I expected. I came here in good shape, and the team is working well, but I never expected to win every sprint.”

A day after Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) won the opening time trial, which would set the stage for his overall win, the remaining three stages turned into sprints, and a victory parade for Kittel (Giant-Shimano).

For Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Dubai turned into three days of frustration. In the first sprint, leadout man Tony Martin misread a roundabout, going around the long way, causing Cavendish to lose position, and he crossed the line 30th.

Cavendish made it through with the front group in the hilly third stage, but coasted across the line 37th, again without challenging for the sprint.

In Saturday’s final stage, all the pressure was on Cavendish, but he clipped a plastic traffic signal sweeping around the final right-hander, ripping off his derailleur. Cavendish refused to talk to journalists at the finish line.

Kittel, however, downplayed Cavendish’s tribulations and said he fully expects to see his archrival back at his best later this season.

“I know Mark will be back to winning. He had some new guys coming into his train, and that always takes time,” said Kittel, referring to the arrival of Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi. “Everyone knows that Mark is very fast. He will be hard to beat in any race he starts.”

Kittel also refused to take the bait from journalists asking if he was now the king of the sprints.

“I think I’ve shown what I can do in the sprints. It’s not a question that makes sense in cycling. Right now there are many good sprinters who can win more than 10 races a year,” he continued. “It’s always a challenge to prove yourself again. For us sprinters, we always have pressure to win the next race.”

There is no question that Giant-Shimano’s train is firing at all cylinders.

Omega Pharma continues to struggle to find its groove, but Kittel and his teammates only take confidence out of the first races of the year.

Koen de Kort, one of the key members of Kittel’s leadout, said they expect it to be a dogfight all season.

“It’s going to be exciting in the sprints this year,” de Kort said. “We’re going good, and Cavendish will get things rolling. Lotto was also very strong at Tour Down Under. They won two stages down there, and they still didn’t have Greg Henderson yet. Every sprint is going to be very competitive.”

Kittel returns to action at the Ruta del Sol in southern Spain February 19-23.