• Fast men Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish at his year's Abu Dhabi Tour. (Getty)Source: Getty
German sprinter Marcel Kittel has returned to the UAE determined to open his season account with new team Katusha-Alpecin after an earlier misfire.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
21 Feb 2018 - 10:51 AM 

Kittel headlines the squad that will compete at the Abu Dhabi Tour from today, which has attracted virtually if not all of the WorldTour’s best fast-men.

The 29-year-old is more than level on stature but not yet on the 2018 scorecard, yet to mark a victory after an understated outing at the Dubai Tour.

Dubai was Kittel’s first hit-out with Katusha-Alpecin, which he has joined this season after a highly successful term with Quick-Step Floors.

“In the end, it was a good race for us and we were there but we couldn’t get that victory,” he reflected on Dubai.

“The most important point for us was to get a structure into our sprint, how we work together, that red line has to establish. That was a very positive development in the end.

It’s something that also takes time. I’m not in a rush, the team is not in a rush here to push anything … We took a lot of confidence out of the race and are motivated for Abu Dhabi.”

The 14-time Tour de France stage winner has the backing of a squad that also includes Russian climber Ilnur Zakarin, who will be looking forward to the weekend and the decisive ascent to Jebel Hafeet.

Kittel and Zakarin both have stated ambitions at the Tour this season, though the former said it’s not necessary to do groundwork here or elsewhere on harmonising that.

“We don’t really have a lot to do together in the race. We’ll support each other, have to share our team. I think for us, it’s just important to keep a nice team spirit and atmosphere,” he said.

Elia Viviani, who has effectively inherited Kittel’s Quick-Step Floors sprint train this year, is among other marquee sprinters including Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), as well as Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott), all starting.

Cavendish, who also featured at the pre-race press conference yesterday, downplayed his chances of success here despite a bounty of stages on offer for sprinters.

After a week of training and racing in Oman, the Manxman surprisingly claimed his squad has brought a team for the overall.

“Here we have a GC team, team Dimension Data have come with a GC team,” he said.

“We’re missing a lot of my lead-out guys, injured or sick or whatever. Although personally, I want to be successful here, it’s going to be difficult for me to do anything.”

The Abu Dhabi Tour features three stages for sprinters, a time trial and mountain stage.