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by Shane Stokes
July 8, 2014
Although he was unmatched on stage one and also proved strongest on the third stage, holding off all the other sprinters despite leading out the gallop in London, Marcel Kittel has said that it would be an error to think that he doesn’t have any competition in the race.
The German sprinter was asked if Mark Cavendish’s withdrawal due to injury meant that winning sprints in the Tour would be straightforward for him. He disagreed, saying that while he may have triumphed in the two sprint stages thus far, that there were no guarantees that he would continue to do so.
“I think there is still plenty of competition. Look to Andre Greipel, for example, or Arnaud Démare, also Peter Sagan,” he said. “It was a perfect sprint finish for me today. But maybe in another stage with another last kilometre to the finish line, maybe a bit more uphill [it would be different].
He said that his win today was due in part to the conditions being so good for him. He is a tall, strongly-build rider and is not suited to the tough roads of stage two. Day three was totally different.
“I think the stage today was more of a real sprinter’s stage. It was clearly made for that, because it was not really hard,” he said. “The sprint finish in front of Buckingham palace was just awesome. It was a great straight road to the finish line in the last 500 metres, really wide roads and a little bit downhill.
“I think that was something that was perfect for me. My team did a great job there.”
The triumph is the sixth Tour stage win of his career. It followed on from his win into Harrogate on stage one plus the four stages he took last year. The victories have underlined his status as the fastest rider in cycling, but he is conscious that many are aiming for his position and that he has to work hard to remain in that slot.
Cavendish could potentially have complicated things for him, particularly as the Briton had worked hard to try to get back to his best. However he crashed out on stage one and will undergo an operation on Wednesday to help his separated shoulder.
That withdrawal would seem to make things easier for Kittel, but he pointed out that it could actually ramp up the pressure on his team.
“Certainly the fact that Mark Cavendish is out of the race also changed things for us as a sprinter’s team as there won’t be that many teams any more who will work for a sprint in the end. It makes it more open,” he said. “We have to take that into account for our planning.”
Kittel knows that his successes at the Tour are a big boost for his team’s current sponsors, Giant and Shimano, and also improve the bargaining power of its management for 2015. There have been suggestions that the team needs to find a new title sponsor; this has coincided with reports during the Tour that Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso’s planned cycling project could be looking to join forces.
Alonso has been reported as facing complications in trying to set up his new squad. There have consequently been suggestions that he might buy out an existing squad such as Giant-Shimano or Belkin.
Asked about this in the post race press conference, Kittel said he had no knowledge of the rumours. “It is the first time that I heard this. There are a lot of…I cannot say a lot about it, of course,” he said. “There were a lot of stories already about Fernando Alonso in cycling. I don’t really know anything about that.”
Instead, he appeared to suggest that the existing backers will remain place. “For us as a team, we talked with a our team-manager Iwan Spekenbrink. He told us that we will continue as a team together also with our sponsor. I think that is all I have to know as a cyclist. I am happy that my future is secure.”