Speaking at a pre-race press conference in Sacramento, Cavendish (Dimension Data) was kind to the man, who ended his reign as sprint king with a bookend performance at the 2013 Tour de France.
Kittel announced in a statement earlier this week he had prematurely terminated his contract with Katusha-Alpecin and planned to take a break from the sport.
The 31-year-old has struggled for results during his one-and-a-half-year tenure with the team that has also underperformed. Katusha-Alpecin won just four races in 2018 - two of them Kittel’s at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Cavendish wrote a three-part message to the 14-time Tour de France stage winner via Twitter following the shock news. He explained his sentiment further when asked about it in California on Friday.
“We’re living in a world now where everybody can have a say and that puts a different pressure onto anybody in life, let alone professional sportspeople. It’s changed the whole dynamic of professional sports and life. I for one have felt that and so I can understand for my colleagues how it is,” Cavendish said.
“I have spoken to Marcel privately. The number of times I’ve heard, ‘you’ve got one less competitor now,’ it’s like, I don’t wish for one less competitor because he is someone who has suffered. It doesn’t matter if you're friends or not, you never wish suffering on anybody.
That’s the last I’d like to say on it. He’s entitled to his privacy.”
Cavendish, 34, has also been a shell of his former prolific self in recent years – amassing a mere two wins in as many years. Some pundits believe it’s simply down to age, as a new generation of lighter and faster men come through the ranks. However, Cavendish has attributed it to an originally undetected Epstein-Barr diagnosis that the Manxman believes he has now recovered from.
“My last blood test a couple of weeks ago was the first time for two years it’s been under a threshold of sick. It’s a massive relief,” he said.
“Normally I have a lot of racing early on [in the season] but the last couple of years not so much, early in the year, because I’ve been sick. Now, I’m finally healthy again. I feel human after a couple of years and my form, I’m able to build on that now.
“I’m not quit top condition but I’m fortunate [with] this first stage in Sacramento, I’ve won here three times.”
The 143km opener is tailored to pure sprinters. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis Solutions Credits), Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Max Walscheid (Sunweb) and Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) are among the competitors.
Sophie Smith is at the Amgen Tour of California as a guest of AEG and ASO, reporting for SBS online.