Katusha-Alpecin management are planning a “crisis meeting” with their star sprinter Marcel Kittel over his recent run of poor form.
The German, a five-time winner of Scheldeprijs, was dropped on the flats and finished 99th on Wednesday. Since joining Katusha, he has yet to find that same spark that saw him win 14 stages in the Tour de France.
“We can’t keep looking for excuses. We need to talk urgently,” sports director Dirk Demol told Het Nieuwsblad after the finish.
“We can’t keep hiding. In the coming weeks we will be sitting together with Marcel, his trainers and the team management. A crisis meeting.”
Already last season, the team and Kittel seemed to be at a breaking point just before he left the Tour de France.
“We pay him a lot of money but he is only interested in himself,” sports director Dimitri Konyshev told L’Equipe at the time. “[Ahead of the stage], he was playing with his phone during the team meeting, to let me know he wasn’t interested in what I was saying.”
Kittel, 30 years old, counts 91 wins but only three of those are in Katusha’s red kit. He joined the team at the beginning of 2018 and his current contract ends this season.
In the Tour, he place third on stage one and fifth on stage four before missing the time cut on stage 11 with other sprinters including Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
Kittel is due to race the Tour of Yorkshire and the Tour of California as he builds for the 2019 Tour.
“But before he thinks of races, we have to try to get him back on track,” added Demol after Scheldeprijs.
“Marcel is and remains a racer, but at the moment he is simply not good enough. It can’t go on like this.”
Former Belgian rider Jürgen Van Den Broeck said on a Sporza live chat that Kittel’s “head is not right” at the moment for cycling.
“Anyone who is a little professional and trains should be able to follow this race,” he said during the Scheldeprijs.
“He is simply fading away. That is sad for someone like Kittel, who is not that old yet. I think his head isn’t right. It is not that he has many setbacks. He has to look within himself. And I doubt if he still enjoys what he’s doing. “