Catching Up With Marcel Kittel
One of pro cycling’s brightest stars, Marcel Kittel is poised to have another strong year as he joins Team KATUSHA-Alpecin. The upbeat 29-year-old German sprinter has racked up a jaw-dropping 19 Grand Tour stage wins, including 14 in the Tour de France, and is in the prime of his career. We sat down with Kittel at the KATUSHA-Alpecin training camp in Mallorca to get his thoughts on last year’s Tour de France, the new components he is riding, and the season ahead. All photos by Getty Images.
Sprinters are always under pressure to win. How do you relax between races to shake off the stress?
That’s a good question. I think it’s maybe a natural thing. I try to not always focus on what could happen, but more on my goals and my job. For me it’s also a relief if I have a good team around me, so I can spread the pressure, and I’m also sure I’m well supported during my race.
During the season you ride so many races and do so much training on the bike. Do you still find the time to train off the bike?
I do go to the gym. Like now in winter I do it more often, but even in spring and summer we are preparing for highlights like the Tour de France and other important races. We also have altitude camps, but training in the gym is an important part of my training to increase my sprinting abilities and being explosive.
Having to abandon the Tour de France last year was hard on you. Looking back, what are your thoughts on this exciting Tour that started in your home country?
To be honest, already two days after I crashed and had to quit the Tour, even if I didn’t want to, I was already really proud. I didn’t think negative at all about it because it’s simply something that can happen, and for me, I have the best way to deal with it with the fact that I won five stages and I was super successful at the Tour. Maybe the chance to defend the green jersey was not there anymore, but after all, I can still be very proud.
Starting in your home country, with so many people cheering for you and all the German riders, must have been special.
Especially with all the successes that happened at this Tour de France starting in Germany, that was a very special thing. Like I always say, my goal is to win a stage at the Tour de France. I would have been happy to win a stage but this time to be able to win that stage starting in Germany and finishing in Liège with all the German fans, that’s like a dream scenario. That was truly fantastic.
Let’s talk about 2018. Is winning the green jersey competition at the Tour de France your No. 1 priority, or would you just go for stage wins?
Not the most important goal. For me, the most important goal is always to win a stage in the Tour. Of course, I will have an eye on the green jersey and I will give my best. But it’s very difficult for pure sprinters to win the green jersey. I think those times are over. Sometimes you need a bit of luck and a good combination of stages where you can score a lot of points and still be in a good position at the end. We will see what happen in 2018. I’m not worried about it. I will start the season with that goal in my mind, fighting for it. But we’ll see after two weeks.
What are you focusing on for the first part of the season?
Mainly on a good start with the team. The most important is to create a nice spirit among the group. It’s definitely important to have a very good connection with the guys, especially with the ones who will help me in the sprints, but also to all the others. Not only the riders but also the staff. I will start in Dubai, which is a perfect race to test your sprint train, to see where you stand as a team. If you still have to improve or it’s already good. And if it’s going well, we can get this first victory.
You are well known as one of the world’s best sprinters, but looking more long-term, are there races where no one is expecting you to race, but you could seriously try to win in the future?
Oh! That’s a tough question [long silence]. Some of the Classics are important to me, like Paris-Roubaix. I’ve never ridden Milan-San Remo for example. So that’s something for the future, but no crazy stuff. And you won’t see me in Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège [laughing].
You are also a very good time-trialist.
Yep. Like in 2016, I’d like to go to the Team-Time-Trial World Championships. That’s a goal but it’s maybe not so surprising to people because I used to have really good results when I was not a professional rider.
You’ve been riding on our groupset, SRAM RED eTap. How do you like it?
I like it very much. I’ve tested it one and a half year ago already. At that time I had never ridden on SRAM before so I was really surprised. It’s really easy to learn. If you never used it, of course you need to get used to it, but it’s very fast and it’s really easy. When I go out on my new bike, the Canyon Aeroad, I didn’t even have to think about what I do, it’s just so natural.
This week you started riding on Zipp wheels. Have you had the opportunity to test different models? What are your first impressions?
This week I rode both the 404 and 454. Now I want to test the 808 and 858! They are definitely fast wheels and when you ride with a crosswind you have a kind of sailing effect. You can really feel that. It’s cool and it fits really well with the Canyon.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
That’s hard to say… During my career I think I had a couple of defining moments and wins. Probably the most defining moment was when I was able to sign a professional contract. Because there was only one option otherwise I would be a student [laughing]!
The major breakthrough was my first year in general, during which I got my first win very quickly and early. Then being able to win my first professional career stage in the Vuelta. That was the end of a process within eight months probably; I went from nobody to someone who is noticed as a sprinter in the cycling world. From there you also give so much confidence to your team, but also get some confidence for yourself. If I stay focused and work hard, I can also make the Tour come through and start there. It’s maybe not easier, but when you have the confidence it helps.
You pay attention to your style and look. What’s the worst fashion crime you or a teammate has ever committed?
When Italians wear their polo shirt collar like this [he demonstrates by popping his collar]. You see that quite a lot.
If you could use only one word to describe yourself, which word would it be?
I would say, “German” [laughing]. Balance. I know when to work. I know when to rest.
Keep an eye on Kittel at the Tour of Dubai (his first race of the year) in early February. He's the reigning champ for the second year in a row.