California next stop for upstart Kittel, then Tour

Enjoying a breakout season, Marcel Kittel looks forward to racing in California for the first time, where he'll hone his form for the Tour

Photo: watson

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

KUSADASI, Turkey (VN) – American fans will get their first glimpse of German sprinter ace Marcel Kittel as he’s set to make his U.S. racing debut next month at the Tour of California.

Kittel confirmed to VeloNews he will be racing in California in what will be his second visit to the United States this year but his first for a race.

“My goal is to win a stage. I am looking forward to racing there,” he said. “I was in California in December. We did wind-tunnel testing in San Diego with Felt. We stayed there 12 days or something – we did the training and for wind-tunnel. I enjoyed it very much.”

Big and brawny at 6-foot-2, Kittel, racing this week at the Tour of Turkey, was one of the revelations of the 2011 season. He powered to 17 victories, helping elevate the status of his Dutch-based Argos-Shimano team.

Thanks in large part to Kittel’s strong sprint, the team has earned bid to the Tour de France this year, as well as a return to the Vuelta a España, where he won a stage last year.

This week, the professional continental team learned it will be racing the Critérium du Dauphiné as well.

“It’s very nice for the team. We have a big, good program for this year. I hope we can use those chances and take advantage of the trust the organizers give in us. We are very happy about that,” he said. “That’s enough for our team right now when I look to our guys. With those races, we will have very nice goals for this year.”

The 23-year-old Kittel has picked up some quality wins so far this season, including his first classic win at Scheldeprijs, where he nipped Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) in a photo finish in the rain.

He’s also won three other races, but so far in Turkey he’s missed out on the sprints. However he still hopes to leave with one in the bag before the race concludes Sunday in Istanbul.

Kittel admits the team’s rising profile has put more pressure both on him and on his team, but he says that’s something that everyone on the squad is embracing as a new challenge.

“The position of our team has changed. They look different to us and to me as a sprinter and as a team – they also want us to work. We have to arrange ourselves to that,” he said. “It’s also nice, because it’s a result of our work and our success; it’s a very good situation at the moment.”

Along with his team, his home country is also embracing Kittel’s success. He has emerged as one of Germany’s hot new stars, along with John Degenkolb, and is helping to revive the long-running tradition of strong German sprinters.

His rivals inside the bunch already see him as a top threat to win any stage, but one sprinter told VeloNews that Kittel is still struggling to find his way around the pack. But Kittel said he’s improving on his positioning for the mass gallops and is becoming more accustomed to bumping shoulders against the best sprinters when the race is clipping along at breakneck speed in the final kilometer.

“I do not think I have problems to be in good position for the sprint,” Kittel said. “The most important man is Tom Velas; he’s the last man in front of me. I worked with him at the Vuelta. He’s a big help. There is a lot of work to go into before a sprint – everyone has their job.”

From now until July, Kittel will be preparing to arrive at the Tour de France in 100-percent condition, since getting over the mountains will be a major challenge for the 82kg rider.

Kittel says his dream is to win the sprint down the Champs-Élysées, but admitted that it likely will not be coming true this year.

“I didn’t say that I wanted to win on the Champs- Élysées this year. It’s a big dream for me some day,” he said. “This year at the Tour I want to get the experience. I want to see how they race. Of course, I want to go for the sprints, but I do think I have the big pressure because it’s my first Tour de France. I want to take a look at it, to enjoy it. I am still young.”

At 23, and already enjoying great success, he should be able to enjoy it for years to come.

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.