Sprint finishes are one of the most chaotic yet thrilling features of professional cycling. To witness the sheer speed and gutsy nerve possessed by the sprinters and their sprint trains is to walk away from a race with a new appreciation for the athleticism of cyclists.
For 2018, Team KATUSHA ALPECIN have German sprinter Marcel Kittel ready to rumble in the sprints. Last season Marcel saw victory in a stunning five stages of the Tour de France, clearly showing he is rightly regarded as one of the best sprinters in cycling.
“Having Marcel in your line-up gives you the biggest powerhouse in the entire peloton in your squad,” said team rider Marco Haller, who usually occupies the last position in front of Kittel before the final sprint. “With the palmarès he already has, he certainly transfers some of that confidence to the lead-out guys like me,” explained Haller.
Coming into the last few kilometers of a race means it’s time for the sprint trains to take charge of things. As the riders work for Kittel, they aim to keep the pace high to ensure a sprint takes place and thereby avoid any opportunistic riders slipping off the front for a solo stage win. The team moves to the front and uses rider after rider to guide the way to the finish line, picking the cleanest lines and staying out of traffic. Efforts by Alex Dowsett will be invaluable at this point, as the time trial specialist can keep up the speed for a long period of time. His efforts will help set up the train for the last few kilometers as Reto Hollenstein, Nils Politt or Rick Zabel take up the charge. “We commit 100 per cent because we're riding for Marcel and there's a very good chance of him winning,” said Alex Dowsett.
“It makes be feel proud to work with Marcel Kittel,” said Hollenstein. “He’s one of the fastest guys in the world and also a real leader. I am really looking forward to racing with him. It is new for me to be riding in a team with a real sprinter and for me this is a new challenge. I think it’s good to learn new things and always look to be perfect.”
Rick Zabel and Marco Haller are the last two riders in front of Kittel before he slings around them to hit out for the finish line. The timing needs to be perfect so Marcel’s efforts are exactly enough to hold off all the other sprinters and see victory. Sometimes it all plays out perfectly; sometimes not so much.
“When sprinters like Cavendish, Viviani or Ewan try to get as aero as possible, Marcel seems to match them with watts and watts only. However in early February at the Dubai Tour there was proof that you cannot take anything for granted. We didn’t quite get it right and had no victories, but we continued to improve,” said Marco Haller. “It comes down to the smallest details like trust, timing, communicating and 100% loyalty.” A few weeks after the miscues in the Dubai Tour, Kittel was second in a photo finish at the Abu Dhabi Tour, showing the sprint train is quickly coming together and putting in solid work for Kittel.
“We also should not forget about the materials we use now in racing. You hardly ever see a sprinter these days without an aero-helmet or a racebody. This is why we’re super happy to have partners like Oakley and KATUSHA Sports. These items are just too important for us to leave in the bus,” added Haller.
Photo credits: Getty Images / Tim de Waele