• Will Marcel Kittel receive his customary backing at the 2018 Tour de France? (AAP)Source: AAP
Champion sprinter Marcel Kittel is uncertain if he’ll have majority support at the 2018 Tour de France with new Katusha-Alpecin teammate Ilnur Zakarin set to target the podium.
Sophie Smith

13 Dec 2017 - 8:24 AM 

Kittel has moved to the Swiss-registered outfit primarily to be its No.1 fast man, with former squad Quick-Step Floors unable to make that guarantee following the rise of hyped Colombian Fernando Gaviria.

“We are still discussing. I really cannot give you an exact answer on that at the moment because things are not decided there,” the German said over the phone from a pre-season camp in Spain.

Kittel is unlikely to compete at the Giro d’Italia or Vuelta a Espana and will base his season around the Tour, which he claimed five stages at this year before crashing out in stage 17.

“There is no secret that the Tour de France will be a highlight again for me. I want to go to the Tour and I want to be focused on the stage wins,” he said.

Confident Kittel makes the move to Katusha-Alpecin
Prolific German sprinter Marcel Kittel pauses as if to ask whether you were paying attention when questioned to surmise his 2017 season.

The 29-year-old believes that the full backing of the squad at the Tour may not be totally necessary, referring to messy bunch sprints, over clear structured lead-outs, which have determined results recently. Kittel’s former teammate Dan Martin freely followed his general classification ambitions at the Tour this year, albeit as a lone ranger.

“When you look to this year’s Tour de France then you don’t need the support of eight riders in front of you, I don’t think that’s working anymore, it’s more your tactic at the moment,” Kittel said.

“If I look now to the last two years in ’16 and ’17 I was always in a team with a GC leader in Dan Martin. I’m sure there is going to be a way how we can make things work if the team, or if we decide to go with a GC leader as well or only with a sprinter. I’m open for discussion with that and I think we have the power to do it.”

German compatriot Tony Martin also influenced Kittel’s move, and he may be one of several riders that can help harmonise the aims of Zakarin and Kittel moving forward.

“I’ve known Tony now for a long time, he’s a good friend and it was very easy to get some more information about the team before I signed the contract. He told me how things are going, how the team is working and that’s always important to have that feedback. It’s great to be together with him on the team,” Kittel said.

Zakarin last week told Cyclingnews he would aim for a podium at the Tour next year, but stopped short of outwardly claiming full backing, which has made four-time champion Chris Froome (Sky) so successful.
Zakarin verified the likes of Martin could service both he and Kittel.

“I've done the Giro and the Vuelta as the leader, and now it's time to do the Tour,” Zakarin said. "I think I'll have three climbers for me, and there will be three riders for Marcel but the riders for the flats and the sprints can also help me in the first week of the Tour when we're on the tight roads and the cobbles.” 

Kittel said the finer details of internal team dynamics would be thrashed out over pre-season training camps.
The 14-time Tour de France stage winner has confirmed some of his race schedule already, which will commence with February’s Dubai Tour.

“This is the first camp now for me, the team and before the new season. We are preparing everything for 2018. For me, it’s also very important to find my place in the group, to integrate, to see who is responsible for what and to meet everyone. It’s all exciting. I’ve got to say I’m very happy with how things are going at the moment here,” Kittel said.

“Everyone is very open … I surely will have a bit of an advantage speaking German and being a German, with the two major sponsors also being from Germany. A big part of the team is German speaking so that’s a very nice feel but it’s also very clear that the whole team is international. We have a lot of riders from different countries and that’s very cool, the atmosphere is very good.”