Marcel Kittel retired from pro racing 10 months ago, and hasn’t looked back since.
The German former sprint star doesn’t regret stepping away from the peloton after a roller-coaster career that saw him take 14 Tour de France wins before two final seasons of disappointment and personal difficulty. Now focused on family life and studying economics, the 32-year-old is “where I want to be in life.”
Kittel spoke in-depth with Algemeen Dagblad this weekend about his troubled final season in pro racing.
In May last year, Kittel and his Katusha-Alpecin team announced a surprise parting of ways, with the rider citing exhaustion and the need to re-find his mojo. At that time, Kittel stated he would be returning to racing when the time was right. However, Kittel went on to confirm his official retirement from the sport that August, having not turned a pedal in anger since spring race Scheldeprijs.
“It was not a happy period in my life, which is why I probably didn’t think about it,” Kittel said of his years in the wilderness before confirming his retirement. “I was in a situation where I was thinking about all my life. I was in talks with the team to have my contract terminated, but I didn’t know which way it was going to go yet.”
“I was not yet thinking about quitting, that decision came later, but that process was then started. All big decisions in life, including these, start with a gut feeling. I took a lot of time to clarify what would be best, to make sure I wouldn’t regret it later. Now I know that a lot can change in one year. It turned out great. I am now where I want to be in life.”
Since retirement, Kittel has fathered his first son Lex, now five months old, and is studying for an economics degree. He lives with his girlfriend in Switzerland in a home he revealed is largely free of memorabilia and trophies from his sporting heyday.
When announcing his retirement last August, Kittel cited the growing pressure and sacrifices required to stay at the top of the sport, telling Der Spiegel he had “lost all motivation to keep torturing myself on a bike.”
Kittel spoke again of the expectations required of top-tier riders this weekend.
“To be able to deal with that in a sport where you are physically exhausted requires so much energy – also mentally,” he said. “I never entered the sport with huge expectations. Not with the idea: ‘I have to win this or that.’ But I speak from experience when I say that if you do it for five, six, seven years and also successfully, you get tired of it. I am not the only one in cycling who has experienced that. All riders come to a point that the sport, which has become your hobby from a hobby, no longer feels like passion.”
Despite being offered a lifeline by Dutch team Jumbo-Visma while out of contract and considering his career options last summer, Kittel turned down the opportunity, saying Sunday that “I made the decision to quit not because I had to, but because I wanted to. ”
Now living out a laid-back family life, Kittel is content and refuses to define himself as an ex-cyclist, but instead as a father.
“When I quit, I knew that cycling was only one chapter of my life. That there had to be something after,” he said. “I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved and experienced in twenty years by bicycle, but now it is time for something else.”
“Lex’s birth has touched me more emotionally than any success. That lasts much longer than a win in a Tour stage or a day in the yellow jersey,” Kittel continued. “My victories don’t define who I am. Victories gave me confidence as a sprinter, nothing more.”