German sprinter Marcel Kittel won’t put a number on success at the Tour de France in which he has another opportunity to take stage honours tomorrow following a career-defining start.
The 25-year-old began the Tour with two goals being to win a stage and finish the event that has seen him celebrate a stint in both the maillot jaune and maillot vert after winning the flat Grand Depart in Corsica.
But Kittel has not since re-evaluated his aims – in terms of the number of potential victories – on the back of that maiden stage success.
“I do not think in numbers. I just try to concentrate on my work, on the sprint, on working with the team,” Kittel told Cycling Weekly on the first rest day.
“If we have a chance, like tomorrow, then we’ll give everything and in the end we have to see what the result is. But we don’t have the pressure anymore and that makes it already much easier for us. We don’t have to be so nervous anymore. We can concentrate on what we want to do in the final.”
Kittel and co-leader at Argos-Shimano, John Degenkolb, survived the Pyrenean stages on the weekend and appeared in good spirits at a relaxed press conference in Saint-Nazaire today.
Both have been in the mix since the Grand Depart with a third and second place, respectively, in stages six and seven.
The Tour has thus far seen a more even sprint competition than previous years with Kittel, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma – Quick Step) all at one a piece in flat or rolling stages. Each will have more than one opportunity this week as the Tour, apart from Wednesday’s individual time-trial, doesn’t return to hillier terrain until Saturday.
Stage 10 tomorrow is another for the pure sprinters and Kittel, who has 12 victories to his name so far this season, is set to have the full support of his team with a more versatile Degenkolb to try and capitalise on his own opportunities later in the week.
“When we look to the last years we’ve got more and more respect from other teams,” said Kittel of his outfit that acquired a WorldTour licence for this year.
“I think we’re just an accepted sprint team like Lotto is or like Quick Step is and that’s also an achievement we can be really proud of. They pay credit to our success and the way we work, and we get it also back from the riders in the bunch.”
Kittel has not finished a Grand Tour as a professional yet. He rode 12 stages of the Vuelta a Espana as a rookie pro in 2011 and was dogged by illness and forced to withdraw during the fifth stage of his Tour debut last year.
However, there is no reason to suggest the two-time Scheldeprijs champion will not meet his second starting goal. He could even supersede it with a bookend finish in Paris.
Koen de Kort, who has returned to good health having suffered from a fever in the opening stages, has noted his 1.89m tall team-mate is climbing well in the grupetto, which is a bonus given the Alps that need to be crossed on the way.
“He’s climbing the best out the three big [pure] sprinters. He was easily the best out of Cavendish and Greipel the last two stages,” de Kort noted of the Pyrenees. “So that makes me really hope he can survive the mountains later on and also do a good sprint in Paris.
“He’s smart enough. He knows when to conserve energy and when to spend it.”