The drama for the outfit started when Tony Martin, an important engine in Kittel’s lead-out, surprisingly abandoned on the Champs Elysees with a leg injury that had caused him pain over the weekend. The German time-triallist decided to take the precaution with the Olympic time trial on the horizon.
“Of course we have to fix the lead-out, try to solve the problem without Tony and then the real fun started,” sports director Brian Holm said.
“Iljo Keisse punctured, was just coming back then Kittel got a puncture and his spare bike, there was a problem with that. Meanwhile, Dan Martin was yelling for a spare bike but we couldn’t really leave Kittel alone. It was quite entertaining. Trust me.”
Kittel paced behind a team car to get back on after puncturing within the final 36km and although he re-joined the peloton wasn’t in the mix for line honours that Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) claimed for a second consecutive year.
“It was just fucking bad luck. There was a lot of punctures and unfortunately when it’s your sprinter and your GC rider you can see it’s (worse),” Holm said.
The big German sprinter did not immediately appear outside the team bus where his teammates, instead of toasting with champagne, were debriefing on the series of unfortunate events.
Kittel joined Etixx-QuickStep this season after a virus marred almost his entire 2015 campaign with Giant-Alpecin, the team with which he had risen to prominence with.
The German fast-man only won a single stage at the 103rd edition, a modest return by his standards, especially when compared with the 2013 and 2014 Tours, where he took four victories in each. This year saw Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) returning as the dominant sprinter in world cycling with the British rider looking to hold the edge on Kittel.
“Cav was flying like good old days,” Holm said. “Kittel is the fastest, we just have to get our lead-out together.”
Despite the misfortune on the Champs Elysees, Etixx-QuickStep marked the end to a strong Tour with the performances of Kittel as well as Irishman Dan Martin, who in his first season with the traditionally classics specialising Belgian team finished ninth overall on the general classification.
“We divided our team in two - Marcel Kittel and next to that riding for Dan,” Holm said. “Let’s be honest, we could not support him (Martin). I mean, he did everything on his own. It was just amazing what he did.
“I think when we get over our loss today we’ll be alright.”