Unlike another German rider we interviewed recently, Marcel Kittel has a good sense of humour and he really likes to talk and talk and talk. But the hour that we chatted flew by as every subject was interesting. A fast sprinter and a fast talker.
PEZ: What training have you been doing during the winter?
Marcel Kittel: I trained at home until December and then we had the first training camp out here. Then returned home for Christmas and came back again to Spain, for good weather instead of cold and rain. I live in Erfurt in Germany; you will probably have to Google it. If you draw a line between Frankfurt and Berlin; it’s halfway. You can train in every way there; there is flat and also mountains, everything you need. It used to be part of the old East Germany, I was born when the wall was still there, it came down a year later. I don’t feel like East German, for my generation it’s not important if you are from East or West Germany. I think the wall still only exists in the heads of the old people.
Happy to be with Giant-Shimano
PEZ: Do you train at home on your own?
Marcel: Most of the time I’m alone, I’ve got some friends who like to ride for fun and I will take them with me, but mostly on my own. We have two coaches on the team who are responsible for our training and they work out programmes and training schedules. I said I wanted a few weeks off and when I feel fresh again in the head and when I miss my bike then I would start training again and that’s what I did. When I came home from Japan, I started straight away, easy in the beginning and week by week a bit more.
PEZ: How did you get into cycling?
Marcel: Until I was 10 or 11 years old I was never really interested in it. My father was a cyclist and he used to ride every Sunday and a few times during the week with his training group and I always said “oh no it’s raining, why does he do that?” So I was not interested in it at all. Then when I was 13 and finished with athletics, I said let’s see what it’s like on a bike, I changed my mind and since then I have been on a bike.
For me it was just fun to do it. I still remember the first time I went for a ride with my father; it was for around an hour and it was 32 degrees, it was really hot and I was totally dead afterwards. It’s so cool to be on a bike and to see a bit of your surroundings where you live. When I think about it now, how many people have no clue about where they live and I’m always impressed about how much a cyclists knows about his area, his home town and everything, that’s a big advantage of cycling. Then soon I found a training group and continued with it because it was always nice.
PEZ: Was that during the Jan Ullrich years?
Marcel: I started cycling in 2000 or 2001, Ullrich and Zabel were still big idols of course, but they were never the reason I started to cycling. I started with mountain bike races, which is quite funny as I didn’t like to climb in those races, but it was great fun to go downhill and to just race. I found my training group on the road and I started to ride road races, in the beginning we never won anything, but in little races we had our first success and then it came step by step and we had more victories and the races became bigger.
PEZ: When did you start to take cycling really seriously?
Marcel: I think I made an important step when I left my old school to go to a sports school, just so that I could train more and train better and to have more time for my sport, I think that would be the time when you could say I was becoming serious. That was in 2004, so I would have been 16.
PEZ: Did you have the idea of being a professional?
Marcel: Not really. For me it was still a lot of fun and I was concentrating on the next step, that meant for me when I was a junior I wanted to be in the local junior team and then when that was over I wanted to be in the local Under 23 team and then after that you want to make the next logical step, which is to be a professional. I was in the National team as a youth, but then at that time there was a fight to be in the National team because you want to go the World championships and you want to belong with the best riders in the country.
PEZ: Who else was in the National team at that time?
Marcel: There were a few that are now professional: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), Patrick Gretsch and Julien Kern both ride for Ag2r and Domink Nerz (BMC).
PEZ: When you came to this team you were a time trial specialist, but they could see you could be a good sprinter, is that true?
Marcel: That’s true. When I came to Skil-Shimano my biggest successes had been in time trials, I was two times World champion as junior and then won a bronze medal in the Under 23’s in Geelong, Australia. But I have to say; when I started cycling in the youth category and with my local training group, when we went to races, we worked as a group for me because it was then already clear that I was the best sprinter of our group. Then we started winning the first races and we did exactly what was needed with a lead out and we had one common goal. When I was in the juniors I had that success in the time trial, but I knew that I could sprint as well, but it was the team that woke me up to that fact again.
PEZ: How did you develop into a sprinter?
Marcel: I changed my training with more explosive training on the bike and more explosive training in the gym. Also it’s very important to change your mindset because you need to be there in the final, so you have to work with the team together and fight a bit for your position and for your wheel. The team helped me a lot, we did a lot of coaching and by racing I learned what was necessary to become a good sprinter. I never feared a sprint and for me it was always a lot of fun. In the youth categories it was always intensive and I always had that talent to give everything in the sprint and to that together with the team and I was never scared of the sprint and it’s the same now with the professionals.
PEZ: What is the most important thing in the last kilometre?
Marcel: When you look at the Tour you see the best examples of very good lead-outs. The most important thing is the team which gives you the possibility to be there and to be sprinting for the victory, the team is the most important thing and my strength and to be a team player and to work with the other boys, in the end it’s high speed and the fastest guy wins. It sounds simple but you need an eye for the wheel and you have to stay cool.
PEZ: Why was it you who broke Mark Cavendish’s grip on the Tour sprints and not Griepel, for instance?
Marcel: Because I was faster than him four times!
PEZ: Was there a psychological element to those wins?
Marcel: It was very important to win the first stage, from there on we knew we could beat the best guys, although I feel it was more important to win the second stage as Griepel and Cavendish were both there and then everyone had the confidence and we knew we could fight for wins here and we can beat the best and it all came together. You are free in your head to concentrate on the next stage without being afraid of another sprinter or another team.
Marcel wins stage 1 of the 2013 Tour de France
PEZ: Did you come into the Tour with confidence?
Marcel: I would say the whole team, including me, had a very strong and healthy confidence that we belonged to the best and could beat the best. If you have that it’s very important and to stick together as a team and concentrate on your goal, but you are always looking for the proof of that feeling and we got that proof when we won the first stage, then it’s easier to go onto the next stages and race for the victories again.
PEZ: You had great help from John Degenkolb last year as last lead-out man; will he be doing that again this year?
Marcel: I think so, it’s again a big highlight for him and for me and I think we showed the World that we are a very strong couple and we can benefit from each other, I’m very proud of our work and how we did it last year together and I’m also very thankful for the work he did for me. I think that’s part of our team character.
Giant-Shimano working on their sprint training at their camp in Spain. John Degenkolb leading Tom Veelers who leads Marcel.
PEZ: Does the German media now show more interest in cycling because of your wins?
Marcel: Ja, ja. I think it’s improving and that the interest is coming back, especially as there were six German stage wins in last year’s Tour de France, so they cannot ignore us. The feedback I got was very positive, I don’t expect a miracle for next year and that we will be everywhere on television, but it’s getting better. I think we are going in a good direction now.
PEZ: Do you think there will be a German WorldTour team one day?
Marcel: I’m sure, yea.
Training under the Spanish January sun
PEZ: Why is it that German media turned its back on cycling and not the media of other countries?
Marcel: I can speculate a lot, but the fact is a lot of very big idols of the sport admitted doping and in the end that destroyed a lot of hopes and also destroyed their places as role models for a lot of people and when all the stories came out; maybe they were forced to do that. For me it’s only speculation and for me it’s not interesting any more as to why they did it, it’s just that they are not there and I hope we can convince the big German channels to broadcast cycling again.
PEZ: Why did you do a lie detector test with Sport Bild magazine last year?
Marcel: They came to us and asked us if I would like to do that and I said basically I had no problem; it’s an important sports magazine and why should I not do it. They came to Erfurt and I did the lie detector test. I think it’s a good thing, especially after all those German Tour riders from five years ago didn’t want to do it and to show the intentions of us young riders to be open and transparent to the journalists and to the fans and that’s why I did it.
PEZ: How clean do you think the peloton is now?
Marcel: Oh! Those questions are always nice. I don’t know, but for me as well as for you, the only indicators are the positive doping tests. But when you look to the way the rider’s race, I think it’s a very, very big difference to 10 or 15 years ago when, in some races five riders in one team were in the top five. I think it’s much more cleaner than before, but I don’t know how to express that in numbers.
PEZ: Do you think the page has been turned?
Marcel: I think a lot of rider now understand we had to change and we still have to work on a better future, but I’m also sure there will be guys who think they can be smart. Its an illusion to say cycling will be free of doping in the future.
PEZ: I was talking to Cancellara last week and he said; it’s not just a cycling problem it’s a World problem.
Marcel: You just have to look at our society and it’s also an illusion that you can get rid of crime.
First race of 2014 and the first win at the People’s Choice Classic in Adelaide
PEZ: Is there training strategies or methods that could improve your sprinting even more?
Marcel: I still have room to improve with training, but also through racing. I think for me it was an important step to finish the Tour de France, my first Grand Tour and I hope that there is a positive effect for me this year and the future to make me a stronger rider. Basically with every race you learn a bit more, when it comes to race situations. But the amount of race kilometres that you ride per year is important for your development as a rider, physically.
PEZ: Did you feel a benefit of riding the Tour?
Marcel: You do not feel it immediately after the Tour because you are still dead. But I can feel it now in the winter, when I started training again it is a bit easier than the year before and that’s very important to have that feeling every winter.
PEZ: Is the green jersey something you would think of going for in the future?
Marcel: In the future, for sure, but at the moment it would be very difficult, if you look at the competition, especially with Sagan. I would need a flatter Tour so that I could fight for points against Sagan because he will score points when it is difficult and on mountain stages and I would need to be lucky probably, it’s still a goal and for me I see it also as a challenge.
PEZ: Mark Cavendish said he was impressed with the Argos lead-out train, do you think he was trying to put pressure on your team or was he being honest?
Marcel: I hope it was an honest reaction and I’m proud of it and the whole team can be proud of it that we are recognised as one of the best lead-out teams and for me, and the team, it gives me an extra boost for next year to keep that level or maybe even improve.
PEZ: Was it a battle to be accepted by the other teams?
Marcel: Of course it was. I think our status in the peloton was a different one compared to 2011, for example. We worked hard at it and we now have the respect and the reward.
PEZ: Is it possible for you to be more successful next season than the last one?
Marcel: I don’t start a season with that intention; I just want to be able to do my best and concentrate on my highlights. I think when I have that in my head that’s enough because everything else would be pressure and just a waste of energy. Then, normally, it should go easier as I’m on the road with the team, I enjoy the time and we take it easy and then we concentrate on the races and go for the wins.
PEZ: What will be your biggest goals in 2014?
Marcel: The Tour and I’d like to be successful in the Scheldeprijs in Belgium again, and on the way to the Tour and also after the Tour there are a lot of possibilities for me as a sprinter and I want to use that.
Marcel in Yellow
PEZ: Would you ride the Vuelta after the Tour?
Marcel: It’s too early to say because I have no idea what I will be doing after the Tour.
PEZ: What about the Giro d’Italia?
Marcel: It’s an option, but I’m not sure.
PEZ: Would you think of going for the big Classics?
Marcel: No, for me that’s not an option. I guess you mean Roubaix and Flanders. No, those are not the sort of races that a pure sprinter will normally win and those are a different kind of race, I want to concentrate on races that will end in a sprint. I think you have to change your preparation for those races. I rode Paris-Roubaix once and it’s a very demanding and exhausting race and if you came to the final in a group of ten, a pure sprinter would have difficulty to win because you’re so empty after that race. I think for a pure sprinter it’s the sort of thing you go for at the end of your career when you are not so fast and need a new goal.
PEZ: So you wouldn’t compromise your speed to go for the Classics?
Marcel: As a pure sprinter I still have enough races to go for, I don’t need to look for extra races just because I’m bored or something.
PEZ: What was that last stage into Paris like?
Marcel: It’s unreal, is probably the best way to describe it. I only knew the Tour from the television, and during the Tour I had moments when I had to think that “this is the Tour de France” to remind myself that I was really riding the Tour de France. On the bike it looks different from watching the television, on the bike you have that race feeling, OK there are more spectators and lots going on around you, but it’s still a race. But when you see it on television you get that Tour feeling, that real Tour feeling that I knew before.
Sprinting for the win on the famous Champs Elysées
Seeing it on TV; that’s the moment I realise it’s the Tour de France and it’s the Champs Élysées and its where a lot of good riders have won, OK the Champs Élysées stands out, it’s unbelievable how many people are there, there is a tunnel of spectators that you ride through and the atmosphere is crazy. It has to be one of the biggest things you can win in your career.
PEZ: So you can retire now?
Marcel: No, I think it’s also not bad to win it twice!
Winning on the Champs Élysées, can it get any better?
PEZ: Last year was really your fist Tour because you were sick the other time you rode.
Marcel: Yes, it’s hard to get the Tour de France feeling when you have diarrhoea! I could really enjoy my first/second Tour de France.
PEZ: You must have exceeded expectations in the 2013 Tour de France?
Marcel: Definitely so. Our big goal was to win the first stage and then we will see. We hoped for one victory, but to win the first stage gave us such a boost, such a big psychological advantage.
PEZ: Did Cav congratulate you on your win?
Marcel: Yea he did actually. We had a talk after the crash with Tom and we spoke during the race, not that we talk for hours of course.
PEZ: Cav said on TV that you were the first rider that scares him, makes him think he has to improve. What do you think about that?
Marcel: When that’s in the media, well OK, but I don’t think Mark Cavendish is sitting at home crying because he doesn’t know what to do next year. If you look at his team he has some great guys for the lead out. First of all we have to look to ourselves and make sure we are as good as last year or even improve a little bit as a sprinting team. I just believe in our team and I am confident that we will be successful again next year.
PEZ: So the big plan is to do what you did last year?
Marcel: I think as a team we had an incredible season, we won a stage in every Grand Tour, I’m especially proud of the fact that we had a lot of different winners this year. I look especially to Warren Barguil, he’s an unbelievably big talent and he showed that with his two Vuelta victories. I expect a lot from our team because I see how the riders train and how motivated they are, I’m not worried at all about next year. We just have to stay relaxed and see how it comes and take it how it comes.
Talking with Marcel Kittel is not like an interview, it’s more like a friendly chat over a coffee, he likes a laugh, joking that the new sponsor was McDonalds and Twitter. He’s a confident guy, but without being a bighead. Top sprinter, Adonis good looks, sense of humour and a full head of hair, he’s got it all…makes you sick doesn’t it!