Kittel capitalised on an exceptionally timed lead-out from his Quick-Step team, which came to the fore with a complement of five riders within the final 3km of the flat 181km first stage. Neither Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto NL - Jumbo) or Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) – who finished with a rear wheel puncture – could come around the German sprinter.
“We did a very good job,” Kittel said. “The first race of the year, you’re always insecure. You can have the strongest team in the world but even then, maybe that’s a point to be even the most insecure because you don’t know really how well everyone plays together.
“The lead-out we have here is very experienced,” he added. “They can also make mistakes, but I trust them a lot. I think that trust gives everyone the confidence to be there when it matters.”
Quick-Step was barely visible at the front of the peloton once the break was caught with 10km to go. The Belgian outfit instead sat back and let Sonny Colbrelli’s Bahrain-Merida outfit initially set the pace.
Dimension Data captain Bernhard Eisel began to swap turns with some 5km remaining, stringing out the bunch before it swelled at a turn with 3km to go and Bahrain-Merida lost a man to an isolated crash. It was after that Quick-Step, which here is considered the best team on paper, properly began to mobilise.
Cavendish comparative to Kittel had exhausted most of his resources in the finale and was further disadvantaged when he said he hit a pothole and punctured inside the last 4km.
“I couldn’t stand up in the sprint really. That Dutch lad came up on the inside, I’d rather let him in than crash. But I’m quite happy,” Cavendish said.
“We missed [Reinardt Janse] van Rensburg, so we were one man down. He came up at the end but it was too late. With him, we would have been bang on.”
The Manxman compared the physicality of his team, a mixture of youth and experience, with that of Kittel’s more experienced set-up when asked why Dimension Data also didn’t bide its time in the finale.
“We haven’t got them riders, we haven’t got six-foot Belgians,” he said. “We’ve got guys who think and ride to just that power.”
Kittel marked his first win of the season on disc brakes, becoming the second pro since teammate Tom Boonen earlier this month to do so.
The 28-year-old now leads the race he is wary of time bonuses in but determined to defend.
“The GC is of course still a goal, now even more,” Kittel said. “In the Dubai Tour you have to see how it goes.
“Hatta Dam is one day where if you lose one or two seconds it’s over. It’s not even safe to say before the last stage if you can go for it or not. Last year, I just grabbed it with a stage win on the last stage. It will be exciting to the final.”