Kittel: I don’t really care what other people think about me

Like Mark Cavendish before him, Marcel Kittel has discovered that when a sprinter reaches a certain, rarefied level, his defeats become more newsworthy than his victories. After winning 26 races during an all-conquering two-year stint at Quick-Step Floors, Kittel must have known that every setback in his maiden season at Katusha-Alpecin would be parsed to the umpteenth degree.

The nadir of a difficult debut season came at last month’s Tour de France, where Kittel failed to win a stage and was eliminated after finishing outside the time limit at La Rosière on the second day in the Alps. By then, a throwaway line from directeur sportif Dimitri Konyshev in an interview with L’Équipe – “We pay him a lot of money, but he is only interested in himself” – had already generated its share of headlines. Come the third week of the Tour, it was being reported that Kittel was looking to extricate himself from his contract with Katusha for 2019 – a rumour he has robustly denied.

“It’s bullshit.I don’t understand it. I never said that, and I’ve also never considered it. I guess that’s just something that happens during the Tour de France when all the media is looking for stories, but it’s just not true,” Kittel told Cyclingnews at the BinckBank Tour on Thursday. “For me, this whole topic is now closed. I’m moving on, I’m over it, and I hope the journalists are also over it. I’m concentrating on the last weeks of my season now.”

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Kittel finds himself at the BinckBank Tour looking to put a different complexion on a season that has, at various points, promised much, but so far delivered just two victories. In 2015, Kittel’s final season with Giant-Shimano was all but wiped out by a long-running illness, but, this time out, there has been no single explanation for his relative dearth of victories. Instead, the German has seemed beset at every turn by a maddening accumulation of minor problems.

In the early weeks of the campaign, he seemed out of synch with his new lead-out train, but the problem appeared to be remedied by the time he delivered a brace of stage wins at Tirreno-Adriatico in March. In April, Kittel looked on course for a sixth Scheldeprijs only for his race to be undone by a late puncture – his third of the afternoon.

After a low-key build-up to the Tour de France, Kittel was in the mix on the opening day in the Vendée, placing third behind Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan in the bunch sprint, but his race petered out thereafter. He made little impact as the week progressed and only had a clear run at one more sprint finale – he placed fifth in Sarzeau on stage 4 – before his elimination.

Deutschland Tour

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Beginning again: Caleb Ewan looks to put a different complexion on trying season

Caleb Ewan must be wondering when he’s going to catch a break in 2018. The Australian did everything that was asked of him in the finale at Ardooie on stage 4 of the BinckBank Tour, but being the fastest finisher in the bunch sprint was only good enough for second place after Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) clipped off the front with a little over a kilometre to go.

The red jersey of points classification leader will be of scant consolation for Ewan, who is keen to finish a trying season with some more tangible prizes as he signs off on his tenure at Mitchelton-Scott. No matter how the campaign ends, of course, the story of Ewan’s year will be dominated by his absence from the Tour de France line-up after building his entire season around his planned debut at La Grande Boucle.

Since last winter, Ewan had been touted as the team’s leader for July, and Mitchelton’s decision to send most of its climbing talent to the Giro d’Italia seemed to confirm that the Tour squad would be built around their sprinter. After declining to sign a contract extension with the team, however, Ewan found himself surplus to requirements when the Tour squad was announced, although he is coy about drawing a link between the two events.

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“I’m not sure, to be honest. I don’t know what they were thinking,” Ewan told Cyclingnews in Blankenberge on Thursday. “All I can say is that I was definitely on track to be going well there. The decision was theirs, so I don’t know.”

In the intervening weeks, Ewan has reached a decision of his own, and he recently confirmed that he will ride for Lotto Soudal in 2019. The announcement followed an unexpected spell of midseason downtime as he sat out the Tour and then returned to action at the RideLondon-Surrey Classic at the end of July.

Maintaining motivation and rebuilding condition through that period, however, proved trying.

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Hecht flies Aevolo flag with Colorado Classic stage win

Gage Hecht surprised a lot of people on Thursday in Vail when he soloed away from a breakaway over the final 14.1km circuit at the Colorado Classic, taking the biggest win of his career and the biggest-ever win for his second-year Aevolo Cycling development team.

The 20-year-old from Parker, Colorado, bridged to a three-rider move about halfway through the 109km race, joining up with Trek-Segafredo’s Niklas Eg, Pascal Eenkhoorn (LottoNL-Jumbo) and UnitedHealthcare’s Alex Cataford.

In the post-race press conference, Hecht admitted he started the move with low expectations.

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“To be honest, no, really,” he said when asked if he imagined Friday’s result was possible when he started the day.

“My first thought when I started that bridge was, ‘Maybe I can make it up to this break and score, like, one or two KOM points and have my name on the results, which would be really cool at the end of the day.'”

Hecht definitely accomplished getting his name in the results, but rather than a single line in the mountain-points standings, Hecht took the stage win and the leader’s jersey, as well as the points jersey, the mountains jersey and the jersey for best young rider. Not a bad haul for a guy who said he didn’t expect any of his moves to stick.

‘I’ve learned so much’

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