DUBAI // A little jittery before the start of his Dubai Tour title defence, Marcel Kittel showed few nerves on the homestretch, timing his charge to perfection to claim victory on the opening 181km Nakheel Stage.
The German, one of the fastest in the sport, made his surge 150 metres from the finish line outside the Atlantis hotel on Palm Jumeirah and, with great support from his Quick-Step Floors teammates, crossed the finish line ahead of Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL – Jumbo) and 2015 Dubai Tour champion Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data), who suffered a late puncture.
“We were always in a good position, not really in the front, but we chose the right distance to go for it,” said Kittel, who won the opening stage and the final stage last year to claim the overall title as well. “After we passed the last roundabout, we tried to find each other and we went full gas to the finish line. It worked really well.”
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This was Quick-Step’s seventh win of 2017 and Kittel, 28, credited his teammates for delivering him perfectly to the homestretch.
“I think we did a very good job,” Kittel said. “The first race of the year, you are always insecure. You can have the strongest team in the world, but even then, you could be insecure because you really don’t know how well everyone will play together.
“But I knew with Fabio Sabatini, with Matteo Trentin, Davide Martinelli, we have really good guys. Also, Maximilian Schachmann did a really, really nice job at the finish. He was not just really strong, but he was also there at the right moment. We also had Julien Vermote showing his strength again today, together with Bob Jungels. A great champion, but he sacrificed himself at the front for us. That shows the great team spirit in Quick-Step Floors. The atmosphere is really good in the team.”
Kittel, however, cautioned against falling into the trap that a Stage 1 win in Dubai will mean honours here or in future races.
“It will be good to remember that it’s only January 31 today and my personal target, the Tour de France, is still five months to go,” he said. “It’s nice to start the season like this, but we should wait.
“Talking about the general classification [overall title] here: of course, it is still a goal. Now even more, but I think we should wait and see how it goes. On Hatta Dam [Stage 4], that’s one day where if you lose one or two seconds, it’s actually over. So you have to be careful on every stage.
“Actually, it is not safe to say before the last stage if you can go for it or not. Last year, I grabbed it with victories on Stage 1 and the last stage. So, it should be exciting until the end.”
Groenewegen, 23, who took the White Jersey on the opening day, fancies his chances after a strong finish on Stage 1.
“It’s a good result and I’m ahead of several top sprinters but yet, it’s not a win and that’s what I was looking for,” the Dutchman said. “We could have done better. It gives me hope for the coming days. I’m glad to be the best young rider but I want to win as well.”
STAGE 1 RESULTS:
1. Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)
2. Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL - Jumbo)
3. Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data)
4. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)
5. Sasha Modolo (UAE Abu Dhabi).
Blue Jersey (General individual classification by time): Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)
Red Jersey (General individual classification by points): Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)
White Jersey (Best Young Rider, born after January 1, 1992): Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL - Jumbo)
UAE Flag Jersey (Intermediate Sprint Jersey Classification): Nicola Boem (Bardiani CSF)