The will-he, won’t-he about Marcel Kittel’s Tour de France particatipation has finally been settled by his Giant Alpecin team, with the German squad confirming that the eight time stage winner will miss the race this year.
Kittel has struggled with the effects of a virus for much of the season and while he returned to racing recently, the team has decided that his performances plus his form are not good enough to be able to ride the Tour.
As a result of that he will be absent from the nine-man lineup, with Milan Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb stepping up as the team’s sprinter.
“Of course I am disappointed about not participating in the Tour de France this year,” said Kittel, commenting on his absence. “But I will have to look ahead and focus on new goals.”
The team said that he had worked hard with the team’s coaches to get back into shape. “Good progress has been made in this process. However the team decided that Kittel’s basic fitness is still not sufficient to compete in the Tour de France,” Giant Alpecin stated.
“Therefore the team will be strengthened for stage success over a different type of parcours, the hard sprints. For now, an alternative racing program will be determined by the performance team and Kittel himself and new goals will be set for the autumn to structurally work towards them.”
It is possible – but not confirmed – that he could ride the Vuelta a España instead. The world championships in Richmond is on a course which could potentially suit Kittel or Degenkolb, and the prospect of the two of them in the German team will be an exciting one for their fans.
Before then, the rival sprinters will aim to shine in the Tour. Cavendish has clocked up 25 stage wins thus far and it has long been thought that Eddy Merckx’s all time stage record of 34 victories is on his radar. While Kittel’s absence may make it harder to control the bunch, it could simplify things for the Briton inside the final kilometre.
Giant-Alpecin will still hope to figure there, although Degenkolb prefers tougher, more selective parcours. It remains to be seen if he can take on the likes of Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Saxo) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in the big bunch gallops, but on harder days where a smaller group is sprinting for the line he should be very much in the mix.
Also stepping to the fore will be Frenchman Warren Barguil, who showcased his talent two years ago when he picked up a couple of stages in the Vuelta a España. The former Tour de l’Avenir winner will make his Tour debut, and his team is hoping for a strong showing.
“For Barguil it will his challenge to discover his capabilities in the Tour, which will be an important step in his development as a GC rider,” it states. “With the young Frenchman, the team aims for stage success in the intermediate /transition- and mountain stages.”
Also riding the race for the first time will be the Austrian Georg Preidler and the Dutchman Ramon Sinkeldam. Both will be part of the leadout for Degenkolb and Preidler is expected to also be a support rider in the mountains.
Tour de Suisse prologue winner and stage 8 time trial winner Tom Dumoulin will hope to recreate that sort of performance in the opening time trial and will also aim to use his strength elsewhere, including helping Degenkolb.
Also likely to assist the German sprinter will be the Dutch trio Roy Curvers, Koen de Kort and Albert Timmer, as well as Simon Geschke of Germany.
“Our main goal will be for a stage win, and the team for this year’s Tour has a good chance to achieve this goal,” states the coach Mark Reef. “Based on the team’s specific strengths, we already have some great opportunities for success in the first week and fully expect to achieve positive results throughout.”