German sprinter Marcel Kittel will use the Tour de Yorkshire this Friday to launch his comeback after nearly a three-month break. He has not raced since the Tour of Qatar in February due to a virus and a slower than expected recovery.
Kittel last raced along the Doha Corniche in the final stage of the Tour of Qatar, February 13. The 174-kilometre stage from Bridlington to Scarborough will mark his first race day in 77 days, seven days shy of three months.
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For comparison, Kittel passed 105 days from his last race of 2014 until he pinned on a number in 2015 in Adelaide, Australia’s downtown criterium. The Tour de Yorkshire will essentially be the start of a new year for the tall blonde.
“It will be Kittel’s first race back,” said race coach, Marc Reef, “so we need to give him the opportunity to find his race rhythm again.”
Kittel’s problems go back to the Tour Down Under, his first race of the 2015 year. He won the criterium ahead of the stage race and supported Tom Dumoulin over the next week. After the trip home to Germany, he felt sick.
He had a virus with a blocked nose and cough, which saw him skip six to seven training days. In the Tour of Qatar stage race, instead of winning, he suffered. Afterwards, he had to reboot his system with another week and a half off his bike.
“The virus wasn’t influenza or Epstein-Barr, but he had to take a big step back,” team doctor, Anko Boelens told Cycling Weekly earlier this month.
“There’s no medicine you can take, the only cure is time.”
After three months, Kittel is ready again, but will be starting from scratch while other sprinters like Sky’s Ben Swift are in full-swing. It is not important that he wins in Yorkshire, but that he finds that “race rhythm” moving towards the Tour de France start on July 4.
His programme includes Yorkshire, the Tour of California and the Ster ZLM Toer before the Tour de France. Ideally, the races will bring him up to speed so that he can win Tour stages against Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick Step), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
Kittel was the most successful sprinter of the 2014 Tour de France, winning stages in Harrogate, London, Lille and Paris.