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MILAN (VN) — German sprinter Marcel Kittel will break his contract with Giant-Alpecin to join Etixx-Quick-Step for the next two years, according to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
On Wednesday, Etixx announced German supermarket chain Lidl will sponsor the team for the next two seasons. It counts 8,000 supermarkets in Europe. The sponsor could help pave the way for Kittel to join the Belgian super-team, whose roster includes time trial talent Tony Martin and classics star Tom Boonen.
The Kittel/Etixx deal could be announced later Wednesday or this week. It comes on the heels of the worst season yet for the tall, blond German and after he reportedly fell out with the German UCI WorldTeam.
Kittel wore the yellow jersey and won four stages in the 2014 Tour de France, but he began 2015 on the wrong foot. He returned from the Santos Tour Down Under in January with a cold and never fully recovered. As a result, he missed several races like Tirreno-Adriatico, Scheldeprijs, and the Amgen Tour of California. He was on the verge of racing on Giant’s Tour team, but he was excluded at the last minute. The decision reportedly created an irreversible split between Kittel and the team.
The 27-year-old turned professional in 2011 and signed with Giant, known at the time as Skil-Shimano, and helped it gain new sponsors Argos, Giant, and Alpecin as it stepped up from the Pro Continental level. His contract with Giant runs through 2016, but Het Nieuwsblad reported both parties have worked out a deal to end it early. If so, it would pave the way for Etixx to sign cycling’s top sprinter from the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Tour de France.
“Marcel still has a contract for 2016,” Giant spokesperson told VeloNews. “[General Manager] Iwan Spekenbrink knows everything, but he’s traveling back from the Richmond Worlds now.”
The timing would be perfect, as Etixx is freed of star sprinter Mark Cavendish, who announced Tuesday he will ride for the 2016 version of MTN-Qhubeka, Dimension Data. Mark Renshaw, Cavendish’s leadout man, will join Cavendish.
2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski will leave Etixx to join Sky with Polish teammate Michal Golas. Colombian Rigoberto Urán will ride in Cannondale’s green colors. The transfers give general manager Patrick Lefevere extra space in his budget to sign Kittel.
Kittel’s agent Jorg Werner told VeloNews last month that the Etixx deal was simply a rumor, but it appears there was some truth to the buzz going through the peloton.
The timing may be right for Giant, who along with the cycling world discovered a new grand tour talent in Dutchman Tom Dumoulin at the Vuelta a España. Dumoulin is expected to lead the team in grand tours, which could be difficult with Kittel wanting space for his sprint team.
The team also has German John Degenkolb, but the winner of this year’s Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix is less of a pure sprinter and can fit well into a grand tour team racing for the overall.
Etixx officials were unavailable for comment on news that Kittel might switch teams.