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With nine Tour de France stage wins to his credit thus far, Marcel Kittel is one of the world’s quickest riders. Those successes include stellar Tour de France campaigns in 2013 and 2014, races where he was the standout sprinter and notched up four wins apiece.
Kittel had a difficult year in 2015, becoming ill early on, getting run down and then not having sufficient rest from training and racing to recover. He was able to turn things around in 2016, but credits his tough 2015 with teaching him some important life lessons.
In this insight into his personality, his mindset and what he’s learned from life, Kittel shares those lessons and also other pearls of wisdom he’s picked up in his 29 years on this planet, including his seven seasons as a professional.
Life is always up and down. If you have never really experienced a moment where it doesn’t go so well, then you probably haven’t lived. The good thing when times are tough is that there is also going to be a better moment again, and you will really appreciate those moments then.
That’s something that I definitely learned from my tough season in 2015. After that year, I took nothing for granted any more. I was also forced at that moment to really make my own decisions and to also think about where I wanted to go as a rider, and as a person.
That’s why I changed a few things. Doing that was very important. I think in general it really helped me as well. You also become more aware of yourself.
For me, a good lesson is that life is as hard as you make it for yourself. When I sit here now in the Spanish sun, I think my life is pretty good. You should always do what you like to do, what your stomach feeling tells you.
Again, back to 2015, that’s what I did in terms of changes. I started doing what I think feels right. And that’s why I am sitting in the sun now.
The decision to have a second place here in Spain makes life personally easier, because I really enjoy it here. In addition to that – and maybe this will sound stupid because we travel so much anyway – it also [helped] me to get out of my place in Switzerland. In fact, moving to Switzerland was another change I made after 2015.
It’s nice to be able to change, to keep discovering new things and new places. I really like that.
I believe it is really important that you always try to be aware of yourself, because sometimes you just live in your bubble. You think what you do is the most important stuff in the world, but actually it is not.
Every once in a while, you should maybe try to look from the outside at yourself. To put everything in perspective. When you do, suddenly the lost race from last week is not as important as you thought it would be.
Doing this always helps me. When I try to do that, I can relax more and think a bit more clearly about how some things went and how I should feel about it.
When I’m angry or disappointed, or whatever, it helps to get perspective. I think perspective is a thing that you need a lot of in cycling.
For example, when you see how crazy some motorists are in the peloton. What I mean is that it’s not that important to be super-fast to the front and to risk the health of someone else by potentially hitting them because you just act too quickly. That’s not necessary.
I do want to be serious about what I do. I want to concentrate on cycling, of course, but I also don’t want to forget my own life. In our sport, that’s something that can happen really fast. If you look at other cyclists, you can see how serious they become.
In general our sport has really developed into a very professional sport. That’s a good thing, moving away from the ’90s and the beginning of the 2000s. But we are still human beings. And so it’s very important to relax too, to find your balance.
It doesn’t always work for me to find that immediately. But, particularly with my girlfriend Tess, she can really distract me from all the cycling stuff. She can take me out of the bubble again.
If I was to consider what she’s taught me, one thing is that I’m sometimes very German. I realize that because she’s a very happy character. Sometimes I see myself as being grumpy, especially when I’m tired. Sometimes I just need time for myself. And Tess knows that. But also she knows that sometimes it’s not always the best way to deal with things. Then she tells me. When she made me aware of it, I know I need to try to get rid of a bad mood in a faster way, or to try to think different about certain things.
Her helping me to be aware of it is very important. Sometimes you don’t really realise that you are being negative, that you start to talk negatively. That in turn affects your thinking. Okay, it’s human to do that, but there has to be an end to it as well.
When I go into races, there is something that I try to make my personal goal. I want to be able to say afterwards that I did my very best.
If I won and I did my best, perfect. If I couldn’t finish the race but I did my best, then I have to live with it. But I can definitely not be disappointed, because more was not possible.
This is something that I learned from my father when I started cycling. I started on the mountain bike and I asked him, “How do I feel that I really give everything?”
He said, “Just do your best. You will feel what your best is, and then you will see where you end up.”
And that’s what I did. And I actually never forgot that. Even now, as a professional, I always tell myself before a race that I have to just do everything that is possible for me. Because if it doesn’t work out in a sprint, what can you do? It is just what it is. You cannot force it.
Focussing on what you can do and not worrying about others is definitely a mental trick. It helps to reduce pressure. But it’s also simply the reality. If someone is stronger and drops you on a climb, that is just how it is. You have to accept it.
Your personal limits are also the limits of how far you can go.