Ahead of our phone call we had tentatively agreed to talk about Kittel’s 2017 season when he claimed five Tour de France victories to take his overall and ultimately final tally to 14.
A few days before we spoke, he messaged to say he was now thinking it was 2014, the first year in which one could indisputably claim that he was the sport’s fastest man, riding to 13 wins including four at the Tour and two at the Giro d’Italia. But when we begin what will prove to be a very enjoyable interview, he reveals an answer we aren’t expecting.
“I’ve really thought a lot about this,” the German chuckles. “I think I take experiences as a professional as the mark to go by. So, if you take everything together in terms of experience, development and victories, my best year was 2011.”
What happened that year? His trademark blonde hair cut shorter and aged 22, Kittel was a neo-pro with Skil-Shimano. Signed originally as a time trialist, he ended it as the sport’s emerging sprint sensation, clocking up a career-record of 17 wins in one single campaign, five of which came in WorldTour races including one in the Vuelta a España.
He summarises: “2011 had a big impact on my career. I made a huge transition from a nobody to somebody who was a favourite in sprints. That year defined my career; the development I made that year I used as a base for everything that happened afterwards. Without that year, I’d have left the sport much earlier.”
Kittel had finished his 2010 season with third place in the U23 time trial at the World Championships in Australia. Skil-Shimano of the Pro-Continental second division, however, were the only team to offer him a professional contract, noting his talent against the clock but also viewing him as a potential valuable addition to their lead-out team, currently working for Kenny van Hummel.
He had no expectations. “I didn’t know what would happen, but knew I had to take the chance and see how it worked out. It was my only opportunity to be a pro and everything was so exciting.”
Read the full article in the January 21 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine
He began his season in Malaysia at the Tour de Langkawi, and he was emanating the emotion of novel joy that all young travellers can associate to, where every foreign object and happening is exhilarating, even if it’s mundane to the initiated. “It was a crazy experience. It was only my second time outside of Europe, my first time to Asia, and it sounded really exotic. I was thinking ‘wow, let’s just enjoy this.’”
He was part of Van Hummel’s lead-out train but he suffered in the heat. “Actually, no, I just had no idea what I was doing!” he laughs. The team suggested that he replaced Van Hummel in the sprint for the following stages. Remarkably, he won the third stage. “It was mind-blowing. I never expected that I could go and get a result there, and suddenly I was a winner within three stages of my career. For the whole team, it came as a shock. I was supposedly part of the lead-out team so no one knew that this could or would happen.”
Read the rest of this feature in the January 21 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. If you’re staying in you can subscribe to CW at an introductory rate of £24.99 for 12 issues to see if you like it. If not, you can then cancel. You can also now order single issues of the magazine to be delivered to your door.