Cavendish is leaving Etixx-QuickStep to join MTN-Qhubeka for next season, after three years and 34 wins with the Belgian WorldTour team. Kittel announced on Monday that he would leave Giant-Alpecin after five years and join Cavendish’s former squad. However, it is not simply a case of one super-sprinter slotting in for another.
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“I wouldn’t say that,” Kittel said after the Giro d’Italia presentation yesterday. “For me, it’s similar to when a new season starts, everything is back to zero. That’s how I see it with the team, with Etixx-QuickStep. Everything is at zero.
“I have to get to know the people there, set up a plan. That’s the challenge. You can’t say that I’m just jumping into the footsteps of Mark Cavendish.”
Kittel out-classed Cavendish in the 2013 Tour de France, by winning four stages and wearing the leader’s yellow jersey. Cavendish won one stage.
He won four stages and wore the jersey again in 2014, when Cavendish left early after crashing on stage one in Harrogate. This year was the other way around, Cavendish won once and Kittel missed the Tour because he was not at his best due to a virus that ruined much of his early season.
Etixx signed Kittel, but none of his familiar helpers from Giant. The team will have to adapt to its new super-sprinter, using some of the same men who helped pull Cavendish to victory, like Matteo Trentin.
“That’s the challenge as the team [setting up the train], it may be unusual, but it’s a decision that came late in the year and it’s not easy to have everything perfect,” Kittel continued.
“When I came to Skil-Shimano five years ago, I was also in a group where everything was new. Etixx-QuickStep showed that they can really handle a sprinter well, build up a team around him, and that’s the trust I’ll have when I go there.”
Kittel joined Giant, formerly Skil-Shimano and Argos, five years ago and raced to the top of the sprint field quickly. He counts eight Tour stage wins, two in the Giro, and three in the Scheldeprijs classic.
He and the team looked to be at a breaking point this summer when Giant selected its Tour team without him. Though Kittel had been suffering from a virus, he said at the time that he believed he was coming back strongly and ready to race.
Kittel explained: “It’s a combination of things, but I won’t say it was the Tour decision that had a main role in it.”
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The team also later left Kittel off its Vuelta a España team. That appeared to confirm their split and that they would try to annul their contract one year early.
He will race for the last time this week in Giant’s black colours at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
“I’m happy and sad at the same time. I’m sad because I have to leave a group of people, riders behind where I grew up and where I started my cycling career. It’s period, since the last week and the coming days where I have to say good bye,” Kittel added.
“It’s going to be an exciting time to prepare for the new challenges with Etixx-QuickStep. I’m looking forward to that. I need a clean cut, it’s exactly what I need.”