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Etixx’s Marcel Kittel Gets Pez’d!

Rider Interview: “I’m not a replacement for Cavendish because I am myself.” That is what Marcel Kittel had to say when asked about there being any pressure coming to Etixx – Quick-Step after Mark Cavendish. The big German had much to talk about at his Spanish training camp: Sprinting, lead-outs, Tom Boonen, Classics, hair and washing dishes.

Marcel Kittel went from four stage wins in the Tours of 2013 and 2014 and a raft of other victories, to two wins in 2015. Illness was to blame as a virus ruined his season, but was there more to it than that? We sat down with Marcel to hear his thoughts on the past year and the year to come.

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Are you keen for the coming season?
Marcel Kittel:
I’m really looking forward to 2016. I’ve had a really good start with the team and we have had some good talks and good meetings about what our idea of what 2016 is and my idea and what I want to do and where I would like to be in the races and how I would like to work with the team. Now we have to make this plan real so that we can all see some results, that for us is the main priority.

What is the feeling in the team?
Everyone is really relaxed and easy, there is no stress and nobody is really dominant. No one says were everyone should go, it’s a very open minded group of young guys and that is something I need to feel comfortable and I’m very happy to have found this.

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Will you be starting from zero to form a lead-out train?
I don’t think we will be starting from zero in this team, there is definitely enough horsepower in this team and you can feel on the climbs in training that the guys are strong. But it is also true that you need to take some time to get everything to work with everyone else and you have to talk about how you want to do the lead-out, what your idea is and how you want to work together as a group and in the end you need to race to practice. That is also when things can go wrong and, for sure, will go wrong in the first races, but there is no need to panic and we just need to learn from these mistakes.

Who will be your last man in the lead-out train?
I would like to keep it really open so that there is not just only one rider for each position. What I would like to achieve in the team is that we are able to react to situations, because not everyone will be in the same race and we need to be able to work with other guys, so everyone needs to have that experience. For the last guys; we will have to work out who will be in which positions and we might need to change. If we change, it won’t be because someone else does it better than the other, but because we need to try something else and that is also very important.

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What is your main targets for this year?
For the first part of the season the main targets are pretty clear. First of all I want a really good start to 2016 and I hope we can find each other as a team, that is very important to me. But the Giro and the Tour will play a role.

Is there pressure on you following Mark Cavendish at Etixx – Quick-Step?
I don’t think it is not about comparing each other. It’s always the same situation when a new sprinter comes up; ‘are you the new Cavendish? Or the new Kittel or Greipel? or whoever?’ You know you are just yourself and you go your own way, you are your own character and you leave your own impressions and that’s just the same for me coming to this team. I’m not a replacement for Cavendish because I am myself. Also the team has its character and what I want to achieve now is everything to fit as perfectly as possible so that we can be successful.

Who would you say are the three top sprinters in the peloton?
I think we can see that there is more than three top sprinters at the moment. Also it depends on the daily shape and how strong everyone else is, so for now it’s pretty wide spread.

Cycling: Team Etixx Quick-Step 2016 / Media Day

Can you compare Giant-Alpecin and Etixx – Quick-Step?
They are quite different. Etixx concentrates on the Classics season and Giant, who also has that focus, but also wants to concentrate on the GC for this year, so that’s what I would say. I think it is really hard to compare them, every team has its own way of working, like every office of every company is different and has a different atmosphere. In the end what is really important for me is that I have found with Etixx is that it is a team that has a really good atmosphere, a really professional team, a team that is on its goals and that I can get the support I need to be able to show my best.

What went wrong in 2015?
Mainly it was because I was sick a long time, that is the main reason. Everything else developed from that point onwards. I missed a lot of training, a lot of races and I couldn’t ride like I wanted to, I couldn’t perform like I wanted to perform because in the end I missed a big part of my preparation. I felt in good shape after Poland, I kept going from there, but I was missing the stability you would normally gain from a Grand Tour in the summer. That was difficult.

Can you put 2015 behind you?
Of course I can try to forget about it, but for me, I’ve really tried to learn from it, from the mistakes that maybe happened or things that went wrong and I try to see the positive by saying I had a pretty relaxed 2015 and will be really fresh in 2016.

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Why did you finish your contract with Giant-Alpecin early?
I think it had just come to a point where it probably wouldn’t work in 2016 with both parties. So in the end it was a feeling that developed throughout the year in myself, in the end, to go that way and try to agree with the team to make it work like this and make a fresh start and everyone can go their own way and follow their own goals. I think it was good for the team and for myself.

What would make 2016 a good year for you?
The most important thing for 2016 is to get a good start with the team, because everything is new. I’m still on the bike and I’m still doing sprints, but the way to the final is different with a new group of people around me. We will try to make that work as well as possible and that takes time. That is my main priority, the results will follow, I’m absolutely convinced by that and maybe in one year we can talk about how successful 2016 was.

Did you have any moments of doubt last year?
Of course there were moments of doubt. If you are not on the bike or you are not having the success you would like, then you start to think about the reasons for it, I think that’s quite normal. Of course there were those moments, it was my worst season ever.

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If you saw the Giant-Alpecin manager, Iwan Spekenbrink, Would you still say ‘hi’?
Sure, why not. I can’t give you a proper answer because it would take hours. But the situation was that Iwan and I agreed to terminate my contract in 2015 because we thought it would be good for both of us to be able to follow our own way in the future and I’m happy about it and he is happy about it, without saying everything was great. I was leaving a team with which I had tremendous success with those people, so now to pass each other and not be able to say hello would be a bit sad. Of course in every good relationship when you end it, it’s maybe not in the best way, but you still have good memories and you are still a bit sad about it.

Would you say that cycling is in a better situation in Germany now than a few years ago?
I can’t agree with that because it has been announced that the Bayern Rundfahrt, our last big professional stage race, cannot run in 2016 because it hasn’t got the sponsors. I wouldn’t say that everything is great in Germany for cycling, but it is definitely a big step forward with the announcement of the Grand Départ and we will see what will develop from that. I and the other riders are also happy that (German) TV has come back to cycling and I think it was a very good and very important step and that also played a role in the Grand Départ.

Now you are in the same team, what do you think of Tom Boonen?
Tom is a really easy guy, if you think about how long he has been in cycling and he still has this enormous amount of motivation it’s very impressive and for me he is a role model and in a few years when I reach that same moment in my career and I still say I want to ride for six hours and have fun, that’s not in every rider or every person to be like that every day. He just really enjoys it, it’s really cool to see that every day. It’s motivation. It’s not only me, it’s everyone in the team, even if you are a rider or not, he really loves what he does and thats also something I find very important to be really always dedicated to what you want.

Will Tom be a lead-out for you?
I know that Tom doesn’t have any problem with that. He showed that in previous years riding for someone else, he did it with Cavendish. He is absolutely a team player, but of course he also knows what he wants. I will be very happy if we can work together for some victories.

Cycling: Team Etixx Quick-Step 2016

Which Classics will you ride?
The Scheldeprijs, that’s it.

Do you think all the Classics have become too hard now, with summit finishes or climbs near the finish?
Yes, that plays a role, but you can see that as a development in many races now, not only the Classics. For me to not focus on the Classics is because Etixx is so focused on the Classics that to just make it into the selection takes full dedication. I want to go for the sprints and that is my season plan and I am happy with my plan, I don’t want to have to much stress at the start of the season, so I don’t want to think of Milan-Sanremo and stuff like this, I really want to focus on coming back now.

Do you think that sprinters don’t have many opportunities these days?
Yes, the pure sprinters have a hard time. If you see Sanremo; it’s really the Sagan type of guys now who have the chance. I don’t want to complain because in the Tour you still have those flat days, but when I look at the Vuelta a España, as a pure sprinter, it doesn’t make much sense to go there.

When you were younger, you were a time trialist really and then you changed and became a sprinter, do you think you might change again?
Ha! It’s not that easy and it also doesn’t work like this. Even when I had a really good time trial results, I was still able to sprint really fast. It’s in your head, then I was really focused on the time trial, but things changed and I really wanted to go for the sprint when I turned professional and I’m happy about that and I’ll be staying on that path.

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Is the shorter haircut because you don’t have Alpecin anymore?
Good question, but my hair still grows really well, you are just jealous because you have none.

Will you grow a beard?
I can’t.

Does your brother still race and isn’t your girlfriend also a sports person?
No, he stopped. Yes she is. It is really, really nice because I don’t have to explain to her that I have to go now for two weeks to a training camp, the question is then; ‘why only two weeks, why not more?’ For me that takes a lot of pressure away. As a professional athlete, if you don’t have someone to back you up and support you, that can have a negative effect on you as you are always worrying that you are leaving your girlfriend and that’s another two weeks you are gone, but with her that is not the case. The problem is that her season starts when mine finishes.

Does this mean she doesn’t ask you to wash the dishes?
No, I have a dish washer. We don’t live together so it’s not a problem, but when she is at my place she does like to cook for me and I’m happy about that.

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