Mark Cavendish seems so good you almost wonder what is wrong with the other sprinters. Look around and here’s ageing Alessandro Petacchi, André Greipel is strong but not prolific and Tyler Farrar is fast but usually not fast enough. But there’s a new generation coming, with several Italian riders lead by Andrea Guardini and a crop of Australians, Michael Matthews for example. But right now the Germans seem to have the edge, with neo-pro John Degenkolb already winning at the top level and above all Marcel Kittel. The Skil-Shimano rider took four stages in the Four Days of Dunkirk and last week took another four stages in the Tour de Pologne. But is he a sprinter?
Kittel is 23 years old. He is from Arnstadt in Germany, the town more famous for Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s from the state of Thurignen, the same as John Degenkolb. Kittel is his mother’s name. Frau Kittel was an elite athlete and his father was a cyclist and both were part of the East Germany Sportschule sports-school system where the state created specific schools to hone elite athletes for the glory of the nation.
Born with good DNA, he started off in athletics winning the state 50m sprint. But he didn’t enjoy the training and whilst on holiday with his father he went cycling and, as they say in French he “caught the cycling virus” and promptly returned to join his local cycling club, the RSV Adler Arnstadt (the Arnstadt Eagles). In turn, like his parents, Kittel went to the Erfurt Sportschule. And from there the success began, first with a national championship win as a junior.
As a junior he was world time trial champion. In 2009 he was European U-23 time trial champion and in 2010 he took third place in the U-23 Worlds time trial too. For many years he himself lamented that people said “you are only a time trialler” but he clearly has a fast finish, indeed they say he puts out 1800 watts in the sprint.
Indeed his sprint and the ability to put out big power over longer distances means Kittel could emerge as more than sprinter, he’s possibly a classics contender. A new Spartacus? We’ll see. As I’ve noted before it is common for riders to beat their peers across many races in the U-23 ranks before specialising, for example Tom Boonen made the podium in U-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Kittel recently extended his contract with Skil-Shimano meaning he is with the team until the end of 2013. If he keeps up this performance he is the Dutch team’s entry ticket into many a big race.