• Marcel Kittel will slip into Katusha-Alpecin colours for 2018 after a stint with Quick-Step Floors. (Getty)Source: Getty
Prolific German sprinter Marcel Kittel pauses as if to ask whether you were paying attention when questioned to surmise his 2017 season.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
12 Dec 2017 - 7:04 AM 

“Fourteen victories and five stage wins in the Tour,” he succinctly says from a pre-season camp with new team Katusha-Alpecin in Spain.

“That was something for me that was really outstanding.”

Enough said I clarify, with no actual need to.

“Yeah, maybe enough said,” Kittel laughs, “but also simply the fact that I was pretty constant over the whole season. Maybe after my crash [in stage 17 of the Tour de France, which he consequently abandoned] I wasn’t really working that well anymore, but until there I reached all my goals. I’m happy with that – that’s a good year.”

The decorated 29-year-old is an anomaly among marquee sprinters in that he is not outwardly brash or boastful in the press.

Those five scalps at the Tour de France made his rivals yield. If you asked virtually any of them during the race to rate their own chances of victory on a flat stage, the majority prefixed their answers with “it’ll be hard to beat Kittel”.

Their race was over before it even began.

“I think the advantage there is really mentally. You have that little extra when you know your opponents are already doubting if they have a chance today or not. I was always sure during this year’s Tour, I was sure that if everything goes well that I can win,” Kittel says.

“Not always everything went well but most of the time it did and if you have that, it feels like a tailwind when you can think that way. I think if you do it like the others then it’s more like a headwind that gives you already a disadvantage.”

At the Tour, Kittel was asked in a media zone if he believed he was the best sprinter if not in the race, then the WorldTour. The question followed his fifth stage victory and a career collective 14th.

If you’d posed that same query to Mark Cavendish, for example, when he commanded similar respect, the answer would have been an emphatic and unapologetic yes. Hell, it was even part of the Manxman’s professional branding for a while.

Such confidence isn’t uncommon among marquee athletes from international sports. Ask any prime footballer. So, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary if Kittel, with the street credit and results to verify it, in that media zone beat his chest.

But since a breakthrough at the 2013 Tour de France with Argos-Shimano, Kittel has typically deflected questions pertaining to his standing, which Cycle Sport magazine that same year in a cover line feature described as ‘Sprint king’.

Therefore, when he responsively paused in the press zone this year so did journalists who have reported on his ascension to fame. Was this a characteristic turning point? His self-recognised claim to the throne?

Kittel delayed then, reverting to a humbler script, but just recently the five-time Scheldeprijs champion owned the title, telling Pro Cycling magazine editor Ed Pickering that, “when I’m in good shape, I can beat everyone”.

“To be honest, I probably, you know me, I probably didn’t really say it exactly in those words,” Kittel counters with a laugh over the phone.

“I definitely have the confidence to understand and to say and to be sure of my speed and of the fact that I can beat everyone when I’m 100 per cent fit. So that’s for me the main message there.

“And, you know, I’m a guy who knows that everyone can also be beaten. It’s happened to me in the past, and it will happen to me in the future. But for me, it’s important to focus on my goals, to be well prepared and have a good team behind me. If that all works and comes together then I know I can win the big races, I can perform very well.”

Kittel was presented as part of the new-look Katusha-Alpecin line-up in Spain last week, the team he’ll represent in 2018 following a two-year tenure at Quick-Step.

He says first impressions are sound ahead of a new season that will start at the Dubai Tour, which he won this year.

It takes time to sync with new teammates, a new lead-out, and that can be reflected typically through a reduced score tally. It doesn’t though seem to be of concern to the unwavering fast-man, who is mapping out a race schedule that may only consist of the one but only Grand Tour.

“I have my space here as a sprinter, I will have a great lead-out in 2018, and the year after that, and that’s the main reason for me to change teams and also be here with Katusha now,” Kittel says.

“We’ve had a good start as a team.”