German sprinter Marcel Kittel and British time trial specialist Alex Dowsett in Katusha-Alpecin's new blue-and-red kit for 2018
The German sprinter joins the Swiss-registered team after two years at Quick-Step Floors. Naturally, Kittel will be head up the team’s aspirations for sprint stage wins at the Tour de France in 2018 and the squad will assemble a lead-out train to guide him into position.
However, Kittel said it was too early to set out firm targets for next season.
“I won five stages at the Tour [in 2017] that I am very proud of and feel highly motivated to be at the top again,” said Kittel. “It really satisfies me.
“I was so happy to be able to come back to a level I had seen in the past. My next big target will be getting used to my new teammates and see how we work together – that’s not even thinking about winning yet.
“Having a great lead out team on this international Team Katusha-Alpecin is a good motivator for me. I think this is a good fit and I feel we can achieve something together. I feel very comfortable here.”
Kittel appeared in Katusha-Alpecin’s striking new blue-and-red jersey during the presentation and stood alongside his old friend Tony Martin and new British team-mate Alex Dowsett, who joins the team from Movistar.
“It’s very nice to have Marcel in the team,” said Martin. “He’s my good friend and he gives me so much motivation for my own riding. He’s also super nice and a good person. I feel more confident now in the team and very comfortable. It’s not my first year anymore – now the pressure is on him.”
The squad is not putting all the pressure on Kittel at the 2018 Tour, as Russian Ilnur Zakarin will take part in the race for the first time in his career. Zakarin impressed in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in 2017, placing fifth and third respectively – the latter being his first Grand Tour podium spot.
“I have goals for the Tour even though it is a race that will be new for me,” said Zakarin. “I hope to see myself make the top five. I had some doubts the middle week of the Vuelta, but I kept getting stronger and realized how good I was feeling.
“It is good to know this happens in the big tours and I will come with more experience to my next three-week race. My condition was very good at the end.”
Dowsett has said that he is looking forward to working with Kittel, as well as a chance to ride in time trials and a possible second tilt at the Hour Record.
“Above anything I was just excited to work with a sprinter again, in any capacity,” Dowsett told Cycling Weekly in September.
“I think that I was quite consistent when I was in that role with Sky and performed well when it came to the lead-out and looking after a sprinter.”
Dowsett continued: “I’ve got seven years to do the Hour Record but it’s a shame it didn’t happen this year. I know the numbers are there and I can do it, I just need three months’ warning and an hour slot in Manchester.”