Marcel Kittel, a sprinter?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Marcel Kittel

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.

Marcel Kittel

Aged 18

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.

Ankush August 8, 2011 at 9:57 am

Kittel is exceptional, he has the physique of a bodybuilder. Another name to look out for is Theo Bos. He took couple of stages in Tour of Oman (Matty Goss was also there) and recently a stage in Tour of Denmark. But age on being their side, Degenkolb and Kittel will be up there to contest with Cav in the future.

Euan August 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

Theo Bos will always struggle to get over hills.

Granny Gear August 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

Ankush – I sought of agree with you about Theo Bos but he is still much too heavy to be a real threat on the WorldTour. He’d have to solely focus on his road racing in order to make the jump IMO.

In terms of Kittel, 4 stages is pretty impressive although I’d like to know just what kind of competition he was coming up against, considering we’ve just had the Tour de France. Still, I’d love to see him try his had at some of the classics.

LeonG August 8, 2011 at 10:50 am

All great cyclists have their day. Cavendish is at the apogee of is career as a sprinter. He knows full well that there is younger blood coming from behind. He still has more to come immediately but he will find it more difficult as the years roll by: the fact of life that all great sportspeople have to face. In a book about the mountain summits in the Alps & Pyrenees “Grands Cols” featured in the Tour forewarded by Eddy “The Cannibal” he admitted that in 1968 when winning his first TdF he soared above the summits “plus fort que la montagne” but the year he had his “chant de cygne” on the Col du Glandon 1977 the mountain summits “me rapellait a l’ordre”.
Indeed, many of us are evidently watching out for the next generation of green jerseys, tours & classics winners. Let us hope they are graceful in both victory and defeat even more so achieving the summit of their careers without recourse to synthetic stimulants. A champion needs also to be humble about his “etat de grace” since it is short-lived, as competitors seek to remove his crown. In the meantime, I will enjoy watching Cavendish at his best but I am looking out simultaneously for his nemesis. One factor is certain, whoever he his, the idea and the ambition are already in the making. No one is too sure at present who exactly is hatching the plot. That is always an advantage over the reigning champion.

Patrick August 8, 2011 at 11:23 am

Granny Gear, Kittel beat the like of Sagan and Haussler in Poland, so not bad competition.

David August 8, 2011 at 11:33 am

An interesting fact that Cavendish alluded to in a recent interview is how he finds it very difficult to dig deep in less important races. On the one hand we have guys like Contador, Evans and Gilbert who seem to want to win even if they are racing in a small event in the middle of nowhere. Then we have guys like Cav and Andy Schleck (is it fair to group them together) who can’t motivate themselves for smaller races.

If Cav could motivate himself year-round who knows how many wins he might get, but while his domination in the Tour may continue, I guess it means that it will leave lesser sprinters like Kittel plenty of chances to pick up decent victories.

I’m still not certain whether Cav is that good, or just that there aren’t many really good sprinters out there. Plenty of young guys (like Ciolek) have been built up as the next big thing and gone nowhere. At the same time, old timers like Petacchi seem to be tailing off without anyone replacing them.

Durishin August 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

And young Marcel obviously has a way with the ladies!

Matt August 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Is Cav that good or is he a product of a a really good team and excellent train at HTC. Heads up against Greipel at the tour he lost and none of the other top sprinters enjoy a lead out train anywhere near as effective as the HTC train has been the last few years. It will be interesting to see how Cav does with a new team and a new strategy.

Rider Council August 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Sprinters climbing well is never ever a good sign no matter how talented they are.

ave August 9, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Indeed, Cavendish was beaten by Greipel, when he was in good position. And almost won when he started from a bad position. So Cav is not that unbeatable. As I’d like to see some real sprints, hope his new team will be a bit more than a leadout train.

Kittel won two stages in Poland with such big gaps that it doesn’t really matter who was the competition. He was much-much better than everybody else.
Too bad, it’ll probably take at least another year to have him against Cavendish.

Steve August 11, 2011 at 6:59 am

Kittel kept winning in Poland in strangely identical circumstances- I thought I was watching a replay each time. I could definitely see him as a classics contender. He has the smooth power necessary when they heat up- the TdP was decent standard but the sprints were nowhere near as intense as the grand tours.

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