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Potential realized, Kittel again looks to Tour de France

The German powered his way to four stage wins at the Tour de France this year and says he’ll base his 2014 around the July classic

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The next big thing was finally just the big thing, physically and on the results sheets.

In 2013, German Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) made good on all the hype and on his physical gifts, taking four Tour de France stages from the best sprinters in the world — including Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who had a full compliment of riders at his disposal.

But it was Kittel who was the sprint class of the Tour, even wearing the yellow jersey for a day after winning stage 1 in Corsica. It came in sharp relief to just a year prior when, at the Amgen Tour of California, the strapping German (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) couldn’t haul himself over the climbs to contend for a sprint. All told, he racked up 16 victories (including stages at the Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice). The Tour, though, has captivated him, like sprint greats who came before. His goals are the same, but his expectations are pragmatic.

“It’s the same like in 2013. I’ll just try to have a good year again. It sounds simple,” he told VeloNews. “I just want to have a good start in the new season, and I’m looking forward to the Tour as a highlight again. Which races I will do on my way to the Tour is not sure yet. We of course talked already about it, but I think I can say I’m open to new experiences also when it comes to other races.”

Kittel said he hopes to race at the tours of Qatar and Oman, but wasn’t sure of his pre-Tour plans just yet.

It was clear the 25-year-old enjoyed his Tour, winning both the first and last stages in addition to stages 10 and 12. And while the dream is to go back to France for another victory lap, that’s something Kittel doesn’t think he should plan on.

“I think it was a very special year and to expect directly that you can repeat it like that the next year, I think that’s a bit over the top. And it also gives you pressure, which is not necessary,” Kittel said. “My personal goal for next year is just to go again for a stage win at the Tour de France, and to finish the Tour.”

He showed last season he has ample finishing power — there’s really no other way to describe his sprint — and his tactical acumen was progressing, along with the strength of his team, which seems to ride with something of a Musketeer mentality as it fights for one another at every turn. So while he says one stage may be enough for him, the expectations around him are gaining weight. Will he have to be better than this year to achieve the same results? Maybe. But his manager Iwan Spekenbrink believes Kittel can be.

“I believe Marcel can continue to improve. You have to remember that he was being developed as a time trial specialist as a junior and U-23. He was not a pure sprinter, but he’s a gifted athlete,” Spekenbrink said. “When he came to us, we made some tests, and we saw his biggest potential was to do well in the sprints. He hasn’t been focusing for so long in sprints, but you can see how far he has come. We believe he can be even better with more experience.”

That’s a scary thought, no? The thought that Kittel hasn’t peaked. Cavendish will certainly be looking over his shoulder after last year’s Tour, — or perhaps he will have to look in front of him — but Kittel is watching Cav as well. The Manxman is assured to come back stronger after what only Cavendish could consider a bit of a down season, given his past dominance in July.

“He will be busy during the winter to prepare for the new season and maybe to change something. If he just looks to the new teammates that he gets — Mark Renshaw. That’s a good step,” Kittel said of his rival. “They showed already once that they are a good team, and we, other sprinter teams, definitely have to take care for that new, new/old combination next season. I’m curious what will happen next year.”

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.