14 Questions With Marcel Kittel
Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) had a red-hot season rollout at the seven-day Italian stage race Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won two stages ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). But the 29-year-old star sprinter found himself at the opposite end of the pack during his debut appearance at the notoriously long, 294-kilometre Milan-San Remo in March. “My oven was totally out,” Kittel blogged of his late-race meltdown. But that’s what the big German sprinter says he likes about the early season.
“I like to start with a couple of victories, try new things, and find my rhythm,” Kittel recently told Bicycling over the phone during his lead up to Paris Roubaix. Relaxed and upbeat following a five-hour training ride outside of Girona, he answered a wide array of questions we sourced from staff and fans surrounding training, racing, bike tech, and of course, his iconic personal style. Here’s what he had to say.
B: You took your first stab at Milan-San Remo and – as you blogged – the lights went out on the Cipressa, one of the key climbs in the final stretch of the race. What did you learn from the experience?
MK: Racing that distance is really extreme. In the end, I’m happy I got the experience to see how this race goes, where you need to pay attention, and what are the crucial parts so I can learn. Also, Tirreno was obviously a very good race for me, but maybe if you want to go to San Remo [five days] afterward as a pure sprinter, there’s not enough time to recover 100 percent.
B: In your blog post you mentioned food as a big takeaway, specifically that you have to eat, even when you aren’t hungry – and then eat even more.
MK: Yes. You have to be careful, especially with nutrition. I had a situation 70 kilometres from the finish where I had to change my bike, and it took a while, and I didn’t eat enough with all that going on. I was completely empty by the time we came to the first climbs, and then it was over there for me, unfortunately. I was a bit disappointed because I felt the whole race was going well for the sprinters with the headwind. But that’s the experience that I gained.
B: Looking long term, do you see yourself ever transitioning to a point where you focus more on the Classics?
MK: I will always be a pure sprinter, and it will always be my number one priority. I will not give that up to be an okay-Classics rider. I’m happy to have the freedom from the team to try a few of these races, but they are not my focus.
I will always be a pure sprinter, and it will always be my number one priority.”
B: This year’s Tour de France goal: green jersey or stage wins?
MK: It was never easy for pure sprinters to win the green jersey, if I am honest, but it is even harder now. Guys like Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews [Sunweb] that are not pure sprinters but very good all-arounders climb very well and have the ability to collect points on stages where sprinters like me are not in the front anymore. That will always make it very difficult to get that jersey. I was very close last year, but it didn’t happen. [Kittel won five stages in the 2017 Tour but crashed out before the finish.] It’s disappointing, but that’s life. My focus is always on stage wins so it was still a very successful Tour.
B: Speaking of sprinting and the Tour, how do you keep it together for that last Tour de France sprint after pushing yourself over all those mountains for three weeks?
MK: When we go into the last week, for the sprinters, it is only about surviving. We all have this goal of Paris in our heads, and that’s what gives you the motivation. But you know you need to save energy wherever possible. There’s always the same group of dropped riders with the sprinters sitting in the same boat working to get to Paris. We try to do it smart, and the sprinters are always smarter than the rest to save our energy, though it’s still very hard. Once you are in Paris, you know you have to go just one more time; you can survive.
B: At 1.9m and 82kg, you’re a big man, and not just “big for a cyclist” big. How did you end up in cycling as opposed to playing a sport like football [soccer]?
MK:(pause…laughs) I have absolutely no talent when it comes to playing football. I am not good enough, but it was never a sport that was close to me and my family or friends. I got into cycling because my father was a cyclist. He was always my role model.
B: What does your sprint training look like? Is it all super-hard, short efforts or do you work in longer high-intensity interval training?
MK: Not much of the longer sprints. I’ll do longer sprint training in winter training camp in Mallorca with the team, but they take a lot out of you, and you need a lot of time to recover. Now that I’m in season, and there are only seven to eight days between races, I do mostly short sprints, which is good enough for me.
B: What’s your favourite on-the-bike workout?
MK: (pause) Coffee rides, actually. I am very good at coffee rides. Nobody really likes to do intervals. My favourite is a long, nice endurance workout where I can choose the route, like today riding along Costa Brava looking at the sea. It’s hard in the end, but also relaxing. It is pure cycling.
Coffee rides, actually. I am very good at coffee rides.”
B: You’ve said you hit the gym regularly. How much off-the-bike training do you do?
MK: It’s always important to keep an eye on the whole body. I work the legs two days a week in the off-season as well as a bit in the season. I also train the core with planks and crunches and other exercises once or twice a week through the season to be sure it’s strong enough to support all the training and racing and to maintain power. In the winter, I’ll go cross-country skiing, or I go running.
B: You run? Not many cyclists like to run.
MK: Ha. Yes. You should ask a few professionals. I know a lot of cyclists who start the season by running. Nathan Haas [Kittel’s teammate on Katusha-Alpecin] goes swimming even now during the year.
B: How far do you run?
MK: Nothing crazy, 30 to 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, I will pay for it with a lot of muscle pain!
B: You were an early – and very successful – adopter of disc brakes. What convinced you?
MK: It was logical to take that next step. Brake performance is really good. It is a little bit heavier than a rim brake, but you have constant brake performance in the dry and the wet. Especially as bikes are getting lighter and lighter, you will eventually have a disc brake bike within that 6.8 kilogram UCI weight limit.
B: How do you like this year’s Tour de France route with the array of cobbles, dirt roads, and big mountain finishes?
MK: It has everything. For me, as a sprinter, I think I can be happy. We have a lot of opportunities to sprint on the flat stages. That’s important when you look to the other races where it’s really hard to find flat stages with a normal finish.
B: You’ll be wearing the new Oakley Flight Jackets at Paris Roubaix. You’re arguably one of the most stylish riders in the pro peloton. Will you be revealing any other changes to your iconic style?
MK: I do not consider myself one of those exaggerated cycling hipsters, like now having the big full beard. It is not in my biology to have a beard, but I am also more old school. I am happy with our equipment and clothing sponsors. The team looks cool and professional. Everything is modern, and it is functional. I’m a bit German there, so that’s the most important thing. Though it’s a nice combination – when I take off the helmet – to have good-looking hair with my new glasses.