The pair joined the rapidly internationalised squad this year and Dowsett was assigned to Kittel’s lead-out in the early season.
It was an adjustment for both but especially former British national time trial champion Dowsett, whose primary focus in a five-year tenure at Movistar had been individual efforts against the clock rather than the bullish chaos of a bunch gallop.
“I’ve made a lot more enemies than I have done in previous years,” he said. “At Movistar in the bunch sprints, I’d knock around on my own and try not to get in anyone’s way because in the sprints we weren’t taking it seriously at all. Whereas here with Marcel, or with Rick [Zabel], it’s serious, you are trying to ride people off wheels, jostle for position quite aggressively. I’m like banging handlebars and sort of in my head going, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry.’”
Speaking at the Tour of Britain where he is racing for Zabel, the 29-year-old said he has fit in quickly with the once Russian and now Swiss-registered squad, which Kittel conversely hasn’t appeared to hit his stride with yet.
“It’s a good bunch of guys and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s made the off-time at races a lot easier than the last five years,” Dowsett said. “Every team does things differently and you have to adapt. Sometimes that takes a while, sometimes it’s quick.”
A lack of results from the normally prolific Kittel, whose sprint train has been under heavy media scrutiny since February, reached boiling point at the Tour de France in July.
Katusha-Alpecin sports director Dimitri Konyshev there lashed out at the 14-time stage winner in a feature interview with L’Equipe, which he later downplayed, saying the 30-year-old was “only interested in himself”.
Speaking from the start of Stage 7 of the Tour of Britain, Dowsett said there was no discord behind the scenes, his two-year contract extension testament to that.
“It’s not been the easiest for Marcel, but he has had results. His two stage wins at Tirreno [Adriatico] were great for all of us, we all did a good job there. It didn’t steamroll on, but it is what it is,” he said.
“The sprinting competition now is so high. You look at it a few years ago, it was just [Mark] Cavendish and [Andre] Greipel. Kittel then popped up and now you’ve got Caleb [Ewan], [Fernando] Gaviria, [Dylan] Groenewegen, [Michael] Matthews, [Peter] Sagan. There are a lot of sprinters and they all have slick lead-out trains.
“I think [the lead-out] is always a work in progress, even when it’s slick. There is always room for improvement, where you could have done things better. A day here Rick told Mads [Schmidt] to go, I told Mads to wait and I was wrong. Rick was right, he should have gone. There is always stuff you can do better but we’re all doing the best we can, we’re all eager to learn as well.”
Zabel has been in the mix of bunch sprints in Britain and will have one more opportunity to take line honours when the eight-stage race finishes in London.
Dowsett himself has marked a steady team debut. He is also a frontrunner to represent Team GB in the individual time trial World Championships later this month.
“I’ve certainly been more consistent than I have been in previous years. I’ve been part of the lead-out train regularly and done a good job regularly as well,” he said.