Sprint king Marcel Kittel will make his Giro d’Italia race debut confident of adding to the stage success he has enjoyed in cycling’s other two Grand Tours.
The German turns 26 on Sunday and a win in Dublin at the end of third flat stage would be a sweet gift.
Kittel has hit his identified season targets thus far including all three of the road stages at February’s Dubai Tour and a historic third consecutive victory at Scheldeprijs in April.
The lean-looking fast-man comes to the Giro with serious intentions though remains non-committal to a full 21-stage campaign, with the Tour de France in mind. The majority of the Giro’s high mountain stages fall in the third and final week and it’s not uncommon for sprinters to gracefully bow-out prior.
“My season is separated into more than only two parts. I finished my first part with Scheldeprijs and now the next part is coming up including the Giro,” Kittel said at a pre-race press conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland yesterday.
“I have the Giro as one of my highlights and I want to be good here. I’m really looking forward as well to my first start in the Giro to get experience in this race. With the team that I have here at the start I’m very confident that we can do good things.”
Kittel was the fastest sprinter of the 100th Tour de France last year winning an unparalleled four stages in his second career appearance. At the Giro he will be able to call on three Giant-Shimano teammates whom supported him there including captain Albert Timmer, compatriot Simon Geschke and pilot Tom Veelers. Luka Mezgec may also get a shot at Giro stage success this month with Tobias Ludvigsson, Georg Preidler, Tom Stamsnijder and Tobias Ludvigsson rounding out the squad that will be introduced at a team presentation tonight.
Kittel has been able to work successfully with a changing lead-out train in the lead-up to the race that doubles as his career fourth Grand Tour start since turning professional in 2011. He won his, and the team's, first Grand Tour stage at the Vuelta a Espana as a rookie pro.
“I think the concentration and the teamwork is very important for the sprint. It’s not the victory of only one person it’s the victory of the team and that’s always really important to keep in mind,” said Kittel.
The Giro on paper features eight flat stages with six of those falling in the first two weeks so sprinters also have the added incentive of a possible stint in the race leader’s maglia rosa jersey within that time. It would be a nice addition to Kittel’s wardrobe that includes the Tour’s maillot jaune after a bookend performance at the 2013 race, which marked his first full Grand Tour.
Arch-rivals Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) will not line-up at tomorrow’s team time trial Grande Partenza in Belfast though Kittel has quality competition here in Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), late Sky call-up Ben Swift, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and versatile Australian Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) to name a few of those clearly in-form.
Viviani celebrated two convincing stage victories at the recent Tour of Turkey, which Kittel noted.
"I followed the results in Turkey and I think he’s in very good condition, as many other sprinters are as well," he said. "We will definitely keep an eye on him and we are aware of the fact that we have to concentrate on our sprint and focus on doing very good work to be able to win here in this race."
The 189cm Kittel enters the Giro on the back of the Tour of Romandie that he withdrew from during the penultimate stage.
“Romandie proved a good race to prepare for the Giro even if the climbs ended up being a bit too hard to race for a bunch sprint,” he said. “But it was a tough workout and was also a good way to get working as a team.”
The Giro d’Italia begins tomorrow with a 21.7km team time trial that Matthews’s Orica-GreenEdge outfit has made no secret of targeting. The race continues with a 219km road stage in and around Belfast on Saturday in which poor weather could play a decisive factor, especially along the Causeway coastline. There's then a rolling 187km run from Armagh to Dublin on Sunday before an additional rest day that will allow the convoy to travel to Italy prior to a flat fourth stage on May 13.
Marcel Kittel - rider profile, biog, cycling results, photos
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, television reporter and presenter, who has provided coverage for Cycling Weekly from races across the world. She has covered eight Tours de France, as well as reporting for national and international newspapers as well as other magazines.
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