Following his retirement from cycling in August, Marcel Kittel has shared his post-peloton plans in an eye-opening interview, also revealing he believes he may have suffered from depression during his racing career.
Kittel has been up front about his thought process since parting ways with former team Katusha-Alpecin in May, before officially retiring in August, giving an insight into the toll that elite sport can take on a person.
Reliving difficult moments of his career with Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Kittel talks about the illness he suffered from at the start of the 2015 with Giant-Alpecin, a season that would eventually end with the German being released from the team.
After falling ill between the Santos Tour Down Under and the Tour of Qatar that year, Kittel was given time off to recover by his team and says this is the period in which he believes he may have suffered from depression.
“Only then did I really fall into a hole,” he said. “I don’t know how depressed people feel, but I think I went in that direction.”
Discussing the struggles of the pressure that came with being one of, if not the best sprinter in the world, Kittel shares how competition demands no signs of weakness, something that now seems not human.
“I think in the entire top sport world if you honestly say that you have doubts, then you are weak, and you cannot show weakness. Even when you go to a psychologist, that is often seen as a weakness. That is not true.”
After calling time on a demanding career, the 31-year-old says the adjustment period going from elite athlete to civilian will take some getting used to, and is a transition to treat with some trepidation.
“I have to make sure that I take the time to cool down,” Kittel said. “From top athlete to normal life. That is difficult and that is why I try to find things in which I can put my energy.
“After traveling two hundred days a year, I can’t suddenly sit at home. I do CrossFit twice a week in a group, it’s very sociable. I also work for German television and I want to share my experiences with young riders.”
Immediately after quitting Katusha-Alpecin, Kittel escaped to Ibiza for a week-long holiday with his girlfriend Tess von Piekartz, who will soon give birth to the couple’s first child.
The German then travelled around Europe visiting people he met during his career who successfully rebuilt their lives following drastic changes in their situation.
One of these people was Werner Küchler, a German cycling fan Kittel met at the Tour de France who ran away from home aged 18 and arrived in Paris with only a single bag containing his belongings, which was soon stolen from him. Forty years after arriving in the French capital, Küchler is now the manager of a restaurant in one of the biggest hotels in Paris.
Kittel will soon refocus on work however, after having taken the time to re-find himself, and has enrolled at Constance University, which is within walking distance of his home on Lake Constance, situated on the Rhine at the northern foot of the Alps.
His girlfriend is also turning to study following her own career as a volleyball player, and will take up a course on holistic nutrition while Kittel enrols in an economics course.
The German hints he might start a business one day or maybe become a taxi driver for a year, saying: “Sometimes we judge people so quickly without knowing them. Maybe such a driver has just won the lottery but he prefers to keep driving rather than sit in a villa. Isn’t that the ultimate jackpot if you can live so confidently?”