Degenkolb sees Kittel split if they want green jersey

Though he's happy with his team, the German all-rounder knows something must change if he wants to win the Tour's points competition

Photo: Tim De Waele

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More than anything, John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) is a realist. Despite winning nine stages in two editions of the Vuelta a España, he doesn’t consider himself a sprinter.

And after winning his first grand tour points jersey at the Vuelta, suffering through the final week with an infection that left him in a hospital bed, Degenkolb also realizes that if he wants to win the green jersey at the Tour de France, he will have part ways with teammate and friend Marcel Kittel.

“Green is a nice color. It’s a big goal for the future,” Degenkolb told VeloNews. “I am also realistic to know that Marcel and I cannot fight for the green jersey if we are both on the same team. That’s how it is.”

Ever the realist, Degenkolb has happily slipped into the role as team worker in the ever more effective Giant-Shimano leadout train, especially at the Tour, where Kittel has emerged as the premier sprinter over the past two editions.

When it’s a pure sprinters course, Degenkolb knows the team works exclusively for Kittel, and the big German ace has delivered eight stage victories in the past two Tours.

Giant-Shimano, however, gives Degenkolb his chance in hillier stages that tend to bust up the bunch, and spit the big sprinters like Kittel out the back. Degenkolb twice finished second in this year’s Tour, meaning that he’s knocking on the door for a breakthrough Tour stage win that would give him victories in all three grand tours.

“For me it’s not as simple as Marcel to be there in the bunch sprint. I need several circumstances to happen,” he said. “You need to be lucky that no one attacks with 5km to go, like Tony Gallopin or Ramunas Navarduaskas. Things like that happen, and I am happy for those guys because they did a great race, but next time it will be my turn.”

Chasing stage wins is one thing, but the green jersey is quite something else. To win green, a sprinter must be there in every scenario. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won his third straight jersey this summer without winning a stage, but he was consistently in the top-five in every key stage where points were in play.

Both Kittel and Degenkolb realize that if either wants to seriously chase the points jersey, one of them will have to sacrifice his chances for the sprints. To win the green jersey, a sprinter needs to be present in every finish and mid-stage sprints that are in the offering. Giant-Shimano’s current tactic of divide and conquer between Degenkolb and Kittel won’t work if green becomes a serious goal.

“It’s not possible. If we split the stages between us, it’s not possible to fight for the green jersey, because every single point is important,” Degenkolb said. “If one of us wants to go for the green jersey, one of us has to go our separate ways.”

Degenkolb isn’t saying a split is imminent. Both are under contract through 2016 with Giant-Shimano. Degenkolb said he’s very happy with his situation on the team, and he gets plenty of chances to win. It’s only during the Tour that he slots into the more limiting helper role behind Kittel.

And Degenkolb isn’t obsessing about the green jersey, at least not right now. His main focus and passion are the spring classics, and he lets it be known that he wants to win races like Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, and Milano-Sanremo. An increased focus on the classics would likely see him lose a bit of his top-end speed, but Degenkolb is still young, at 25, and said he’s only getting stronger.

His immediate goal is the worlds. He will miss Sunday’s team time trial with Giant-Shimano, but hopes to be back at full strength for the elite men’s road race September 28.

“I have not seen the course. People say it’s good for me, good for [Peter] Sagan, but the worlds are also good for [Vincenzo] Nibali, for a lot of guys,” Degenkolb said. “You cannot say it’s perfect for [Fabian] Cancellara or [Philippe} Gilbert. There are many altitude meters to climb. The worlds are always hard.”

Despite his infection, Degenkolb said he came out of the Vuelta feeling stronger than ever, and is quietly optimistic he can ride well in Ponferrada.

“What is the ideal preparation? It’s hard to plan. The Vuelta is always a bit of a risk, because you can crash at any time. For me, it’s good preparation for the worlds,” he said. “Two years ago, I did the Vuelta, and I was in very good shape. Last year, I did only one-day races after the Tour, and I didn’t feel I had the real power to be there in the final.”

For the present and near future, he’s all in with Giant-Shimano, and he’s content being Kittel’s sidekick in the Tour mass sprints. Yet he knows at a certain point, especially if he wants to make a serious run at the Tour’s green jersey, he will have to cut the ties.

“That changes nothing with Marcel. He is a great guy, but I am also realistic enough to see the situation, and he realizes that, too,” Degenkolb said. “I would like to win the green jersey some day. And so would Marcel. It’s not possible for both of us on the same team.”

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