Kittel aims for Amgen sprint wins en route to France

German sprinter looks to introduce himself to U.S. racing with a California win

Photo: Mark Johnson

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SANTA ROSA, California, (VN) — The Amgen Tour of California opens Sunday with one of the world’s surging sprinters in its field, a man who will be bumping elbows with Mark Cavendish come July for stage wins in France.

Can you name him?

Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won 17 races last year, including a stage at the Vuelta a España, and in 2012 has already won two stages at the Tour of Oman, a stage at Three Days of De Panne and the Scheldeprijs semi-classic. Yet the young German remains something of an unknown in North America.

Not for long. Though this year’s Amgen Tour isn’t exactly sprinter friendly, if Kittel, 24, is within striking distance near the finish, he’s a favorite to win any bunch sprint. The Tour of California marks his first race on American soil.

“I think it’s going to be a very tough race,” Kittel said on the eve of the start in Santa Rosa. “[Sunday] will be hard… Personally, I want to be in the final here.”

Kittel’s size (he’s a muscular 6 feet 2 inches) and power make him a threat in California, even if the hilly stages favor a rider more like Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).

Kittel said he hoped to contend for stages here, and that though he’s an unknown to fans here, his team is not. The Dutch Pro Continental squad Argos-Shimano (formerly Skil-Shimano) has had to work more this year, as the peloton has gleaned how dangerous the German is in a field sprint. That’s not necessarily bad for the team, and Kittel knows he’s expected to deliver on his teammates’ efforts.

“The other teams want to make things as hard as possible,” he said. “I have to take care that they don’t drop me.”

And if the big German doesn’t get dropped, watch out…

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