Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) takes a valuable lesson away from 2018 – that a career trajectory doesn’t always climb.
The German brings that into his 2019 season, having already taken a victory in the Challenge Mallorca.
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Kittel, 14-time stage winner and yellow jersey holder in the Tour de France, continues his season this week in the UAE Tour.
With three sprints on offer he hopes to show he is back on the right track.
“I’ve had a very nice career so far, I’ve learned now again that the career doesn’t only go upwards, but it sometimes goes down,” Kittel told Cycling Weekly.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2019, but I can tell you that I learned from 2018. I’m also happy about the experience because it grounds you, puts you back to zero in your head, helps you think about what you really want.”
Kittel made the switch from Quick-Step to Katusha-Alpecin in 2018 and won only two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico – a disappointing season by his former standard.
He wanted to take his same winning sprint to the team, but something did not click immediately.
The team worked to perfect the train, but Kittel rarely fired to the win.
He left the Tour early and ended the 2018 season after one stage of the Tour of Germany in August. The experience helped him reset over the winter.
“You enjoy what is important in your life and if this is the lesson that I get from it, even if the season is not going to be good again then that’s already enough and it takes pressure away from me,” he said. “I know that I can be relaxed now going into the new season.”
Kittel won the Trofeo Palma in Spain’s Challenge Mallorca – the long break helped him “get that feeling back.”
“The main thing for me is that I had enough time,” he said. “I finished my season early, I started my training in the beginning of October when I’d normally just end my season. That gave me four to five weeks more of training. I was very happy about it, that I had that chance.”
Kittel will build towards the Tour de France with the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race next month. He will likely not race Milan-San Remo and instead a few Belgian one-day races like Scheldeprijs heading towards July.
He will aim to build on a palmarès that already includes four stages in the Giro d’Italia and 14 in the Tour de France.
Sprinting legend Mario Cipollini recently said that Kittel remains the most talented sprinter in the world.
“Did he say that?! Oh, thank you. I guess that’s a big complement,” Kittel said.
“I don’t know how that helps me in the sprints, but it’s nice to hear for sure. It’s a little push for the next days.”
Kittel has three possible stages to sprint for victory, in the other days the team will work for overall leader Ilnur Zakarin.
“I’m definitely relaxed, but of course, I also make pressure for myself. I have goals, expectations for myself,” Kittel added. “I take confidence out of my winter and out of the last weeks. That’s the most important thing.”