In praise of the blaze : The A to Z of Marcel Kittel

Marcel Kittel burst onto the pro scene in 2011 with Skil-Shimano and blazed his way to victory and into fans’ hearts everywhere. His struggles over the past two seasons have been apparent and although he parted earlier this year with Katusha to take a break and consider his future, it still came as a huge surprise when he announced his retirement from pro cycling in August, at the age of 31. Kittel’s pro career might have been relatively short, but hot damn, it was a blaze of glory. Here is our A to Z of the ArgoSunGod.

A is for the Argonauts

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Marcel joined Skil-Shimano in 2011 but it was in the team’s incarnation as Argos-Shimano that he really set the sprints on fire. A tight Argonaut team including riders such as John Degenkolb, Koen de Kort, Simon Geschke, and Tom Veelers and in those early days, the team seemed to be one for all and all for one. And many times that one was Marcel Kittel. While his 2012 Tour de France debut was inauspicious – no stage wins and having to abandon due to illness on stage 5 – with the promotion of the Argonauts to a WorldTour team in 2013, he stormed to victory in the first stage of the Tour to take his first maillot jaune. If you’ve not seen the documentary of Argos-Shimano’s 2014 Tour de France, find it and watch it.

B is for bronze

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When Marcel was a pup, he actually specialised in time trials! He took a bronze medal in the 2010 Under-23 TT championships, losing out to Taylor Phinney and Luke Durbridge.

C is for Cavendish

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I’ve always thought that sportspeople who have a rival with an opposite style can bring out the best in each other – McEnroe and Borg, for instance – and I believe that of Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish. Their sprinting styles were different, physically they were opposites – but boy when they went head to head in sprints, there was nothing like their speed.

D is for desert races

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Desert races seem to suit sprinters who want an early season stretch of the legs – wide, clear roads; dry heat; cool, marble baths in 5-star hotels to cool down in at the end of the day. Marcel usually spent February in the desert and he has much to show for it. Two overall titles in the Dubai Tour, plus three points jerseys and a total of 8 stages; 3 stages in the Tour of Oman and 1 stage in Abu Dhabi.

E is for early days

A lovely little film of Marcel talking about how he came to love cycling.

F is for first pro win

Marcel’s first pro win was in 2011 with Skil-Shimano, winning stage 3 out of a bunch sprint during the Tour of Langkawi. He beat Anuar Manan from Terengganu Cycling Team and Andrea Guardini from Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli.

G is for Giro d’Italia

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Marcel raced in two editions of the Giro d’Italia. In 2014, he won stages 2 and 3 in Belfast and Dublin respectively, before abandoning due to illness. He went back to Giro in 2016 with his new Etixx-QuickStep team and won stages 2 and 3 again. This time, his stage 2 win meant he pulled on the maglia rosa and wore it on stage 3 before surrendering it back to Tom Dumoulin; he also went into the points lead on stage 2 and wore the red jersey until the end of stage 6, when he ceded it to Andre Greipel.

H is for Hair

Holy Mary, but that man has great hair …

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Even with helmet head …

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I is for Impact

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Simon Geschke‘s tribute to his teammate and friend mentions how much of an impact Marcel had on German cycling. After Operation Puerto, Germany had fallen out of love with cycling – until Kittel came along. The Tour started in Dusseldorf in 2017 and Kittel won stage 2.

J is for Jerseys

Marcel has won his share of points jerseys, as well as GC jerseys. His first victor’s jersey as a pro was winning the overall in the 2011 Delta Tour Zeeland; the last was the blue champion’s jersey for the 2017 Dubai Tour. In between he’s taken home jerseys from Four Days of Dunkirk (points); Tour de Picardie (GC and points); Ster ZLM Toer (points) Dubai Tour (points three times, overall twice); Tour de Pologne (points); and Volta ao Algarve (points). For Grand Tour jerseys, see G is for Giro; T is for Tour; V is for Vuelta. 

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K is for Katusha

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Marcel went from QuickStep to Katusha in 2018 and the new team never seemed like a good or a happy fit for him. In his two final years of racing, he won three races: two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico in 2018 and the Trofeo Palma in 2019.

L is for last race

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Marcel’s last race was Sheldeprijs on 10 April 2019, a race he pretty much owned with a hat-trick of wins from 2012-2014 and back-to-back victories in 2016-2017. He finished 99th in 2019. A month later, his contract with Katusha was terminated by mutual consent and on 23 August, he announced his retirement.

M is for Mini-Marcel

While his life on the road wasn’t giving him joy this year, his life off the road certainly has been. He’s all set to be a father in November and, as he said in his retirement announcement, ‘I don’t want to see my son grow up on Skype’.

N is for nineteen

Marcel has won at least one stage in each of the three Grand Tours: his first stage win was in the 2011 Vuelta (the only time he rode that particular race); four stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and a whopping 14 in the Tour de France – the most of any German rider.

O is for open

One of the things I always liked about Marcel was that he never acted like the interviews and press he had to do as one of the sport’s stars were a burden or a chore. He always had a smile, open to answering questions about sausages (egad!) and not having a hissy when asked the same questions over and over. He was also generous with his time for his fans, which is always the mark of a great man.

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P is for pointers

If you want to sprint like a pro, you need some training tips …

Q is for QuickStep

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After a successful 2014, with two Giro stages and four Tour stages, 2015 was not a good year for Marcel and Giant-Alpecin released him from his contract a year early. Etixx-QuickStep offered a two-year contract and those two years were some of the most successful of his career, including a whopping five stage wins at the 2017 Tour de France. He didn’t re-sign with QuickStep at the end of the two years, but went to Katusha-Alpecin.

R is for retirement

Marcel’s open letter to announce his retirement was honest, heartfelt and full of integrity. A beautiful way to say goodbye to fans who took him to their heart.

The biggest question of the last few months was: Can I and do I want to continue to make the sacrifices needed to be a world-class athlete? And my answer is: No, I do not want that any more, because I have always found the limitations on a top athlete as an increasing loss of quality of life. That is why I have a very happy and proud that at this point in my life I can make the decision to follow my heart in a new direction.

S is for Skil-Shimano

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Marcel began his pro career with Skil-Shimano in 2011 and he started blazing his name on the sport from the start. During the 2011 season, he won 13 stages, including a Vuelta stage, 4 one-day races, 1 points jersey (4 Days of Dunkirk) and the overall at Delta Tour Zeeland.

T is for Tour de France

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Marcel rode five Tours and won 14 stages in all (two of those on the Champs), wore the yellow jersey twice and the green jersey 13 times (but never won the points classification, which sounds crazy considering his four and five-stage years …). His ArgoSunGod looks and unbelievable turn of speed were perfect for the razzle-dazzle of the biggest bike race in the world.

U is for upwards …

V is for Vuelta

His first and only stage win at the Vuelta was in 2011. And he never went back there again!

W is for wins

From 2011 to 2019, Marcel Kittel racked up 89 pro wins.

X is for Xtraordinary

When Marcel was in full flow … he really was extraordinary

Y is for yellow

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Nothing quite like the ArgoSunGod in the maillot jaune on a sunny day in July. The only time I have ever envied Kate

Z is for ZLM

Okay, I’m cheating a bit as the race is actually called Ster ZLM Toer but give me a break – do you know how hard it is as we near the end of the alphabet? Anyway, Marcel took the points classification in 2012 and won 5 stages of the race between 2012 and 2017. Forget the Dauphine, this was his way of setting himself up to take on the Tour!

So that’s our tribute to Marcel Kittel – one of the most exciting sprinters we’ve seen. We wish him all the best for the future and hope that he finds something that fulfils him and allows him to have that quality of life that he so craves. And thank you, Marcel, for setting our hearts ablaze. 

 

 

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