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July 02, 2014 – Sprint king Marcel Kittel says his hands are already wet with anticipation ahead of Saturday’s Tour de France start in Leeds. The 26-year-old burst onto the sprint scene last year, winning four Tour stages, including both the opening one in Corsica, which put him into yellow, and the final stage on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Kittel has hardly raced against his primary rivals Britain’s Mark Cavendish and German countryman Andre Greipel this season but he’s desperate to test himself against the best.
“I’m really looking forward now to the race, it will be for sure a ‘Grand Depart’ with all the British fans,” the Giant-Shimano rider told AFP. “We (the sprint favorites) did not do too many races together (this year), I think especially in London we will have the first real opportunity to see a real sprint; it’s making my hands a bit wet.”
However, the opportunity to take on the man he replaced last year as king of the sprints, Cavendish, on his home soil isn’t a consideration for Kittel.
“For the stages here in England I’m here to win a stage, I’m not here to beat Mark Cavendish at home. It’s not only about that, you also have to think about Andre Greipel, he’s a big concurrent and other guys like Arnaud Demarre from FDJ.”
Giant come into this race with a twin sprint tactic as Kittel’s teammate and compatriot John Degenkolb, 25, is also handy in the speedy finishes. But while Kittel is the better flat out sprinter, Degenkolb is more likely to still be there for the finish after a tough or hilly stage. It means Giant are coming to the race with two potential tactics at the finish. Kittel for the flat stages that end in a bunch, or pure sprint, and Degenkolb for the power sprints when his teammate suffers on a tougher stage.
“You talk about the pure sprint formation when you have… an easy stage with a classic bunch sprint where everybody is there and also all the concurrents are in optimal lead-out formation,” said Giant’s sprint lead-out captain Roy Curvers. “That one is easy to analyze and easy to scientifically build the train for that. But when you have a power sprint it means the stage has been harder along the way and it means not everybody is as fresh as they should be to do it properly. Also the concurrents can have difficulties in their lead-outs so in the power sprint formation you need more thinking during the race.”
Degenkolb, who won Gent-Wevelgem and finished second at Paris-Roubaix in April, is looking forward to the opportunities this will provide him at the Tour.
“The Tour is 21 days long, there are a lot of opportunities this year, even much better than last year,” he said. “For me personally and for the team in general we have a lot of flat sprint stages and also lots of stages that are in between flat and climbing stages. There are five or six that can suit me. In the end it’s a good combination which makes this tour very unique.”