Marcel Kittel hasn’t placed any undue pressure on himself to perform in sprint stages at the Tour Down Under but took first scalp at the prelude People’s Choice Classic in Adelaide today.
The 25-year-old best Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and young Australian Caleb Ewan (Uni SA-Australia) in the 50km criterium, which doubled as his first race with new title sponsor Giant on the team jersey.
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It’s an apt title for the 188cm German whose four stage wins and bookend performance at the Tour de France last season has seen him increasingly referred to as the fast man to beat.
“I think it’s all about having a good time here. It’s not a holiday, for sure not, but I mean you can practice a bit now,” Kittel said.
“To be honest, it would be very nice if we could go for a stage win but I don’t want to put myself already now under pressure. The Tour Down Under is a very nice start to the New Year and we’ve got some opportunities. We’ve got very good competition here, very good sprinters, but I also think that our team is very good when it comes to GC or stage wins in the harder stages.”
Kittel had a quite start at the Tour Down Under last year with it being one of only two stage races he didn’t claim a win in. Despite his career-defining Tour de France campaign he doesn’t feel any more a marked man this time around.
“For me it doesn’t feel like there’s a big difference. In between the riders everyone knows who to watch, where you need to take care and who will be good. I guess there’s no big difference compared to last year,” he said.
Giovanni Visconti was transported to hospital with a suspected right leg fracture after a large crash 12km into the Classic. His Movistar team later confirmed the injury adding the Italian is set to undergo surgery at midnight.
Sky neutralised proceedings after the crash allowing the peloton to recover with a four-man break including Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Axel Domont (AG2R La Mondiale), Anthony Roux (FDJ) and Luca Wackermann (Lampre-Merida) away.
The break was inevitably caught as Sky mobilised early within the final 10km moving to the front in an effort to help set-up Chris Sutton for the sprint but also keep out of trouble ahead of the WorldTour season opener that Richie Porte is targeting.
Lotto Belisol took over control with one lap remaining and Greipel was in prime position. The German national road champion was the first to kick on the home straight but was caught on the line.
The podium place for Ewan, 19, has given the highly touted talent confidence prior to his Down Under debut.
“I knew a lot of people would be fighting for Greipel’s wheel because over the past few years they have the strongest lead-out,” Ewan said. “Coming into the last corner I was on Greipel’s wheel and that’s where I wanted to be.”
Tour Down Under race organisers are set to meet tomorrow evening to assess bushfire risks and deem if Tuesday’s opening stage will run.
People’s Choice Classic 2014: Result
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Giant-Shimano in 1-04-34
2. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol
3. Caleb Ewan (Aus) UniSA
4. Christopher Sutton (Aus) Team Sky
5. Jose Rojas (Spa) FDJ
6. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
7. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
8. Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Drapac
9. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale
10. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol all same time
52. Andy Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 36 secs
82. Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky at 1-40
83. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky at 1-40
91. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 1-46
Geraint Thomas hits the front for Team Sky
Marcel Kittel (right) takes the win ahead of Andre Greipel (left)