Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) has paid tribute to his long-term rival Marcel Kittel after the German quit his Katusha-Alpecin team to take a break from racing.
Cavendish, who has won 30 stages of the Tour de France, said Kittel was "the first rider he ever had to 'work out' how to try and beat" in a series of tweets paying tribute to the sprinter.
The Manxman wrote: "For many years of my career I felt unbeatable, invincible. One rider came that changed that. A mountain of pure muscle and blonde hair. That rider is Marcel Kittel.
"It seemed like cycling's version of Rocky IV. He was the first rider I ever had to 'work out' how to try and beat. Marcel, I want to say thank you for a rivalry that lifted my game, but above all gave an excitement to cycling fans.
"As competitors, we all try to have an edge on each other. But as humans, we should only wish for peace and happiness for each other. From my heart, I wish you all the best for your next chapter."
Kittel has struggled for form in recent seasons, only managing two wins in 2018, both in Tirreno-Adriatico, and one victory at Challenge Mallorca this year. The rider recently admitted he was going through "a difficult period" after being dropped on the flats of Scheldeprijs in April, finishing 99th and 4-30 down at a race he has previously won five times.
This performance forced his team to call a crisis meeting over the sprinter's condition, with Kittel then planning to get his season back on track at the Tour de Yorkshire before failing to take the start line in Barnsley.
On May 9, Katusha-Alpecin confirmed the 30-year-old would be leaving the Swiss team.
Kittel said in a statement: "On my request, Katusha-Alpecin and I have mutually decided to an early termination of my current contract.
"In the last two months I have had the feeling of being exhausted. At this moment, I am not able to train and race at the highest level. For this reason, I have decided to take a break and take time for myself, think about my goals and make a plan for my future."
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