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MILAN (VN) — Marcel Kittel heads towards Paris-Nice with greater confidence this year since Argos-Shimano races in the first division. Over the winter, largely thanks to Kittel and John Degenkolb’s results, the team received a ticket to all the UCI WorldTour races.
“It’s also a bigger challenge for the riders,” the German told VeloNews. “We have a bigger program, we have to do a lot of races in the WorldTour, but yeah, that’s what we wanted and we are looking forward to it.
“I was happy when I heard the news because that was the goal we tried to achieve the whole season. Every year, we grow a little bit. It’s nice that after those years of work that we get the license.”
Dutch team Argos-Shimano worked its way to the top gradually. In 2009, racing as Skil-Shimano, it debuted in the Tour de France as a wildcard invitee. It returned last year shortly after inking a deal with new sponsor, petroleum company Argos.
Kittel, 24, turned professional with the team in 2011 and sprinted to wins all around the globe, from Malaysia to France, Australia to Holland, and at home in Germany. Last year, he racked up 13 wins while Degenkolb earned 12 — 25 of the team’s 30 victories. It was enough to convince the UCI it deserved a WorldTour spot.
Grand tour dreams
Kittel was billed as Mark Cavendish’s rival and a potential Tour de France stage winner last year. His debut quickly turned sour due to stomach and knee pains. He rolled in five minutes back when André Greipel won stage 4 in Rouen and the next day, he abandoned.
“Afterwards my body was probably so empty that I had to leave the race,” Kittel said. “It was difficult to leave. When you prepare for a race, you want to do well. It wasn’t a nice feeling to leave because the team was there for me, it was a hard decision but on the other hand, it was easy because I just couldn’t ride anymore. I had no other option but to just leave.”
Kittel rebounded to win two stages in the Eneco Tour and a handful of other races. Degenkolb picked up the pieces for the team in the next grand tour by winning five Vuelta a España stages.
This year, they’re both heading to the Tour de France.
“We’ll share the stages,” Degenkolb told VeloNews. “If there’s a really flat stage with a sprint, we will ride for Marcel, no hesitation. He’s faster than me in a flat sprint.”
“We can share the pressure and responsibility,” added Kittel. “It makes it easier for the both of us.”
Paris-Nice and Scheldeprijs
Kittel will lead Argos’ sprint team in Paris-Nice next week. Having already scored the team’s first win in the Tour of Oman, he is a hot bet to repeat.
The French race also leads Kittel towards a handful of one-day races, like Handzame Classic, Gent-Wevelgem, and Scheldeprijs. Last year, he won Scheldeprijs outside of Antwerp, adding his name to a list of winners that includes Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, and Robbie McEwen.
“John’s going for Milano-San Remo, which isn’t a big goal for me now,” Kittel added. “I’ll focus on the races that typically end in a sprint.”
The team is scheduled to attend the 29 WorldTour races. With the two German sprinters divvying them up, the team is almost assured a successful debut in the first division.