John Degenkolb has weighed in on Marcel Kittel’s premature exit from cycling, saying the happiness of his German compatriot and former team-mate is more important than a future in the sport.
Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) came through the ranks with the embattled Kittel, both rising to WorldTour prominence with early incarnations of Team Sunweb.
“I’m in touch with him and I help him as good as I can. It’s very important to stick together. We’ve been through so many great and also bad moments in our lives and it’s not, even if he stops cycling now, or he doesn’t come back, it doesn’t mean his life is over,” said Degenkolb.
“On my request Team Katusha-Alpecin and I mutually decided to an early termination of my current contract,” it read. “In the last two months I have had the feeling of being exhausted. At this moment, I am not able to train and race at the highest level. For this reason, I have decided to take a break and time for myself, think about my goals and make a plan for my future.”
Kittel went from winning 14 races with former team Quick-Step in 2017 – including five stages of the Tour de France in which virtually all his rivals mentally ceded – to two in his first year with Katusha-Alpecin that in total took just four scalps following a roster overhaul.
The 31-year-old Kittel recently described his debut season with the outfit as “black”.
“You know after 2018, I learned again what a business it is we are in,” he told Procycling Magazine. “A lot of it was black in 2018. I don’t have to hide that. It goes very quick that you feel you’re on your own, and then it’s hard to see the reasons why you’re actually doing this.”
Kittel started the season with the aim of ascending back to the top of the sprint hierarchy and won his second race of the year but faded thereafter.
Asked if he believed whether the five-time Scheldeprijs champion would return to the WorldTour later this year with another team, or in future, Degenkolb said it was irrelevant.
“I think the question is not right now if he comes back in cycling or not. The question, or the main focus, should be he comes to the point that he enjoys what he does. It doesn’t matter what it is,” Degenkolb said.
The former Paris-Roubaix champion said Kittel’s hardship was not something he could personally relate to.
“In these situations, it’s very hard to put yourself in that position because every time it’s different,” he said.