Following on from rumours this week that Marcel Kittel will leave Giant-Alpecin and move to Ettix – Quick-Step, the sprinter and his current team have confirmed that he will indeed exit the squad.
Kittel has been with the team since turning professional in 2011. Over those years he developed into the best sprinter in the sport, winning four Tour de France stages in 2013 and repeating that feat in 2014.
However this season was a disappointment; he was far from his best form and missed out on Tour de France selection as a result.
Kittel was vocal in his disappointment, but the team justified it at the time by saying that it considered his form was not solid enough to mount a strong and sustained challenge in the sport’s toughest race.
Three months later, he’s heading elsewhere.
“After my last setback, where I had to skip still more races, it became clear to me that I want to make a fresh start after a physically and mentally difficult year,” he said, explaining the decision.
“When I shared this wish with the team, I was aware that it’s uncommon to release a rider from his contract before the end of the term. Therefore, I very much appreciate that Team Giant-Alpecin placed my personal wishes above the concern of losing a rider so late in the season and that it was receptive to my request to try and find a new team, which is something quite rare in the hard world of elite sports.
“I knew it would not be easy to make it happen this late in the season, but fortunately I expect to be able to find a suitable team, where I will race for the next few seasons. I am looking forward to it.”
Thus far he has not indicated where he will go, meaning the Etixx – Quick-Step rumour is unconfirmed at this point in time.
Speaking about the decision, Giant-Alpecin CEO Iwan Spekenbrink said that while the relationship had been a good one, both sides had agreed to a new beginning.
“Marcel has meant a lot to the team and has been a great ambassador for us. Therefore, we immediately decided to respond positively to his request and release him from his contract,” he said.
“His request came very late in the season, but nevertheless he looks able to find and join a suitable team, which makes it realistic to actually release him.
“Marcel is a great athlete and it will be good for the sport of cycling, for the fans and, most importantly, for Marcel himself if he can produce great sprints again next season, which was an additional argument to respond favourably to his request.”
Kittel’s non-selection for the Tour caused some tensions. He was also absent from the Vuelta a España team, although Giant-Alpecin told CyclingTips that he was not in line to ride the race as he had different objectives. He was similarly not included in the German team for the world championships, with Giant-Alpecin team-mate John Degenkolb leading the squad there.
The team said that its approach to the sport explained the parting.
“In a way, the release of the powerful sprinter also symbolizes the team’s commitment to its elite sports DNA, the “Keep Challenging” approach – which is very demanding for the athletes and the organization in its focus on continuous improvement of both the athletes and the innovative supporting environment.”
It added that this same Keep Challenging approach was part of him becoming a sprinter and going on to dominate that wing of the sport.
It said that it was looking forward, not back, and would push on.
“The team’s decision to grant Kittel’s wish to be released and to remain close to its DNA is a choice for the long term,” it said. “[It] reflects Team Giant-Alpecin’s commitment to ensuring the continuous development of the athletes and the team, as well as the breakthrough of new cycling stars.”
Spekenbrink thanked Kittel and said that his contribution to the team was considerable.
“We really enjoyed his sprinting talent and the unforgettable moments we shared together, and we will continue to be proud of the sprints he will deliver in the future, as he will always be a ‘product of our school.’
“We wish Marcel all the best in his future career.”
The team is yet to indicate if it will seek to sign another sprinter to take Kittel’s place. Degenkolb remains part of the team, but he is more a rider for difficult, selective courses rather than a pure bunch sprinter.