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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) said he’s ready to handle the pressure of living up to expectations that come with last year’s breakout Tour de France.
Kittel won four stages and wore the yellow jersey last July to emerge as a challenger to Mark Cavendish’s crown as the fastest man on two wheels.
The 25-year-old German, who is making his season debut at the Santos Tour Down Under, admits it won’t be easy to match his haul from the 2013 Tour.
“The Tour was better than we expected. It was a dream performance during the Tour,” Kittel told VeloNews. “It will be difficult to repeat the same results this year. We are going to try.”
Kittel said the team’s confidence is sky high following its stellar Tour performance in 2013.
“We want to do it again. Winning those stages and wearing the yellow jersey was so nice. It makes us motivated for more this year,” he said.
“We also know there are many competitors. The sprints are more competitive than ever, but our team is very strong for the sprints.”
The 6-foot-2 Kittel confirmed his status as a top-class sprinter in last year’s Tour, in what he called his true debut. In 2012, Kittel started the Tour, but quickly abandoned due to a nasty stomach bug.
In 2013, the team delivered on its pre-race focus of winning the first stage and the yellow jersey on Corsica. A chaotic run-in, marred by two crashes in the closing kilometers that disrupted the sprint, however, left with Kittel something to prove.
“Our big goal was to win the first stage and to win the yellow jersey,” he said. “That took all the pressure off of us.
“We wanted to win another stage, because people said that the first stage saw many sprinters missing due to crashes. The second stage we won [stage 10] was even more important, because everyone was there in the finale.”
Kittel went on to win two more stages, including the prestigious final sprint down the Champs-Élysées, knocking back Cavendish, who had won the previous four editions.
“To win on the Champs-Élysées was a perfect ending to the Tour,” he said. “It is the most important stage for a sprinter. It was a nice way to finish what was a perfect Tour for us.”
He also realizes that with the success of 2013 come additional responsibilities, not only for him, but for the team.
“We know people will be looking to us to control the race even more, but we are ready for that,” he said. “Our team was already working for the sprints, so we expect this work.”
Giant-Shimano returns with its key sprint-train players for 2014 — John Degenkolb, Koen de Kort, and final set-up man Tom Veelers.
“We all knew Marcel could do it, but winning a Tour stage the first time is the hardest,” Veelers said. “After we won the first time, it was a confirmation that we could do it. Marcel was more confident, and so was the team. Winning three more times was just so amazing.”
Kittel’s central focus for 2014 will be returning to the Tour and doing it all again.
Once again, the opening road stage presents an opportunity for the sprinters, with the yellow jersey and the stage win up for grabs on the first day.
“Everyone knows it will be a sprint on the first stage, so we would like to win it. We also know everyone else will be trying, too!” Kittel said. “I know what it feels like to wear the yellow jersey. It’s something I want to do it again.”
Kittel said he’s not sure if he will race the Giro d’Italia or Amgen Tour of California in May, but said he hopes to be consistent across all races on his calendar.
“We want results in every race we go to this year,” he said. “Our team is working together better than ever. We know our jobs, and we want to keep improving. When there is a sprint, we will try to win.”