Marcel Kittel and Katusha-Alpecin are learning from their early-season sprint mistakes to try and win their first race since joining forces for 2018.
The German sprinter, victor of 14 Tour de France stages, left Quick-Step over the winter to lead Katusha’s sprint team. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and others have already won, but Kittel is still looking for his first after missing out in the Dubai Tour at the beginning of February.
>> Struggling to get to the shops try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<
He and Katusha-Alpecin have a chance to correct their “mistakes” in the five-day Abu Dhabi Tour, which started on Wednesday.
“As a team we showed a really good team spirit [in the Dubai Tour],” Kittel said.
“We saw where our mistakes were and what we have do better in the future and that’s what we’ll work on now, in this race and in the coming weeks.
“We were there but we couldn’t get that victory so that’s also a goal for Abu Dhabi now, to do better and keep developing.”
Kittel’s best day in his new red colours saw him sprint to third behind Cavendish and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
With 14 stage wins and twice wearer of the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, no one is giving up hope on the 29-year-old.
“The most important point for us was to get a structure into our sprint and how we work together. That red line has to establish and has to be more strong. We have to be aware of what our plan is and what we want to do as a group. That was a very positive development in the end [from Dubai] and that’s something that also takes time.
“I’m really not in a rush. The team is not in a rush to push anything. If we were luckier on stage one and I didn’t have a mechanical, then we would be talking totally differently about this race.”
Some of the world’s top sprinters arrived for the Abu Dhabi Tour, the first WorldTour race in the Middle East. The stars on the list include Cavendish (who quickly abandoned after a crash on stage one), Greipel, Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and Daniel McLay (EF Education First-Drapac).
They will have three chances through the race, which also includes a time trial and on the penultimate day, and a summit finish on Sunday.
Katusha made plans last week after the Dubai Tour to be ready here in the Emirates’s second big tour, where their classification star Ilnur Zakarin also races. Kittel will rely on Rick Zabel, Marco Haller and Alex Dowsett to deliver him in the three sprints.
“We had a meeting to talk about [the Dubai Tour] and the last week,” Kittel continued.
“That’s always important because you come out of the event with a good feeling after looking at what was good, what was bad and what you want to do better.
“That way, you have a plan and you can go into the next race and just be confident again. And for us, that’s the most important thing.”