Marcel Kittel will open his 2017 campaign at the Dubai Tour this week stronger after a full season at Quick-Step.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
31 Jan 2017 - 7:55 AM  UPDATED 31 Jan 2017 - 8:37 AM

The 28-year-old is determined to defend his title at the extended five-day race in which he’ll test disc brakes.

“For a sprinter, I think there is no better race to start the year than Dubai. It’s flat, it’s the only race where you can really have the goal to go for GC,” Kittel said.

The nine-time Tour de France stage winner tried disc brakes during European winter training and noticed a “strong improvement”.

His Quick-Step teammate Tom Boonen last week became the first pro to win on them, claiming a stage victory at the Vuelta a San Juan.

“Using disc brakes now is good because you can see how it is in a race,” Kittel said.

“What I can say from all the training sessions I did is that it’s a very strong improvement. It improves steering of your bike, you can handle it really well, so I think it’s a good choice.”

The UCI suspended its disc brake trial in 2016 following Fran Ventoso’s crash at Paris-Roubaix. It’s been resumed in 2017 under the proviso rotor edges are fully smoothed to reduce perceived safety risks to riders. Kittel hasn’t committed to using them throughout the season at large.

“I think the most important point is that we need to find the solution to what they do for the rest of the year,” he said. “From my point of view, it’s not very smart to let half of the bunch ride on disc brakes and the other half on rim brakes. That might be OK when you have dry conditions, like in Dubai, without rain, but once you are in a downhill there’s an incredible difference between rim brakes and discs when it’s wet.

“The UCI has to take a decision and once that is taken you can also talk about improving the discs with a cage, or something like this,” he continued. “They have made the edges of the ridge more round now, which I think is good. I saw it, I touched it, I have trust in it, but the discussions are not over yet.”

Kittel’s greatest advantage in the race is not likely to come from the technology however.

The German sprinter is now familiar with Quick-Step having competed with them for a year, and can look back on a successful season to move forward, rather than a 2015 campaign that comprised a measly 32 race days due to illness.

“Yeah, it’s different, really,” he said of his position. “I had a good winter. I could also feel that finishing the season with good race kilometres and then starting training in winter again made a big difference. I hope that this is an advantage for the start of 2017.

“It’s one year where I really have the time to also know everyone on the team, more than only a couple of months like it was last year,” he furthered. “That’s adding more value also to the team, to create a strong bond between each other and that’s I think very important for the lead-out.”

Kittel will face tough competition from what is a class field that Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Elia Viviani (Sky) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) also headline.

“There are very good sprinters here, it’s also an opportunity to see how good the team is doing,” Kittel said.

“If there are mistakes happening in the final, for example, it’s good it can happen here because later in the year, when you go for the WorldTour races, then it shouldn’t anymore. It’s a really good start to the year.”