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Ride like... Marcel Kittel

Marcel Kittel training ride
BikesEtc
24 Oct 2016

A look at what makes one of cycling’s new breed of speed merchants so quick.

Heralded as one of the new generation of sprinters, Marcel Kittel is also one of cycling’s poster boys with his blond quiff and dashing good looks.

Don’t let the pretty boy façade fool you, though, Kittel is nails. He’s won nine stages at the Tour de France since he started professionally racing in 2011 as well as four in the Giro d’Italia, even wearing the famous maglia rose leader jersey for a stint.

Measuring in at 6’2” Kittel isn’t the smallest sprinter but producing an estimated wattage of 1500watts when he gears up for a sprint, his size certainly gives him an advantage.

Here we take a look at what keeps the big German rolling...

FACT FILE

Name: Marcel Kittel

Age: 28

Height: 1.88m (6ft 2)

Weight: 85kg (13st 7)

Lives: Erfurt, Germany

Rider type: Sprinter

Professional teams: 2011-2015 Giant-Alpecin (formerly known as Skil-Shimano/Argos-Shimano/Giant-Shimano); 2016 Etixx-Quickstep

Palmarès: Tour de France 9 stage wins 2013-2016; Giro d’Italia 4 stage wins 2014, 2016; Vuelta a España 1 stage win 2011; Scheldeprijs 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016; Dubai Tour 2016

Eat like a caveman

What? For many, the highs of being a pro outweigh many of the lows but one low that Kittel can’t deal with is eating rabbit food.

‘Strict schedules and nutrition plans cannot help me. It’s not who I am and doesn’t work. I can be strict for certain periods like in the build-up and during the Tour but if, for example, I want a slab of meat, I’ll have a slab of meat,’ he said.

Nutrition plans can be extremely effective in helping you attain your goals whether it be losing a bit of belly fat for climbs or building leg muscles for those fast sprints.

However, many people get too bogged down with calorie counting and can lose sight of their goals.

How? It’s important to eat healthily but don’t let boring food cloud your target. Have a cheat day every now and then.

‘There is a psychological component to the cheat day;’ says Jillian Guinta, professor in Health and Physical Education at Seton Hall University, New Jersey.

‘Without rewards, sticking to a healthy lifestyle day in day out can become mundane. It may take several weeks to see the scale budge, so knowing that a cheat day is coming can help keep up motivation.’

By breaking it up, you can keep striving towards your goal – without turning into a rabbit!

Marcel Kittel interview

Don't push it

What? With only two victories in minor races, 2015 was a disastrous year for the German. A virus struck Kittel down in the middle of the Tour of Qatar but he tried to push on and raced in the Tirreno-Adriatico before being forced to get off the bike completely.

‘Everything developed from that point onwards. I couldn’t train like I normally do, and then I couldn’t race much because I didn’t have the correct preparation. I missed that base you get from racing a Grand Tour, and everything went backwards,’ he revealed.

How? By pushing through the pain, Kittel showed his hardman credentials but ended up writing off his 2015 season. Listening to your body when it comes to illness is something every pro rider must do and is something many amateur riders don’t do.

If you’re aiming to peak for a particular sportive or race in the calendar, it’s important to not overcook your body before that event and if that means sitting out a few practice rides then so be it, no matter what your cycling buddies might say.

Kittel’s personal team doctor, Dr Anko Boelens, told us, ‘You can never really predict how long it will affect you. Maybe a couple of weeks is enough, but sometimes it takes more time.’

By pushing through the pain sometimes you can be undoing all that hard work you’ve accomplished, finding yourself back at the bottom of the ladder.

To quote Kittel himself: ‘Health is everything – your key to success.’

Go aero

What? Like most sprinters, Kittel lays out the watts when he powers down the home stretch. During his time at Team Giant-Alpecin, the German used the more aerodynamic Propel for many of his races.

Outside of the obvious aero benefits, Kittel explained his choice. ‘For me, as a sprinter, it’s a really aerodynamic bike but when I’m sprinting around 72kmh it’s really stiff. So with my weight and my power I really need a stiff bike under my ass to get me going’ he said.

How? The more aerodynamic bikes out there are not built for comfort, with aggressive geometry pushing your bum high in the air and the hands quite low, compared to their endurance cousins which see the rider sit more upright.

These bikes, like Kittel’s old Propel and the Speciaized Venge ViAS, are built to be incredibly stiff so that all that power Kittel puts out goes directly into propelling him forward.

So if you want to get that extra bit of speed and you find that your bike’s steel frame flexes when you put the pedal to the metal, it could be time to upgrade.

Marcel Kittel smile

Change it up

What? The German sprinter started as a mountain biker before becoming a time-trial (TT) specialist.

Kittel was so adept at the latter he pinched a victory against the three times World Time Trial champ Tony Martin in the U23s junior title.

After taking the gold against the clock Kittel shifted his focus towards sprinting. ‘I always knew I could do it, I just needed someone to give me a kick up the ass,’ he told us.

How? Don’t be afraid to try new cycling disciplines – cyclocross or mountain biking can actually help your road riding, as we demonstrate on page 114.

Keeping your cycling repertoire varied also keeps you psychologically engaged. ‘You should alter your training program to avoid boredom.

When workouts become dull, do something different.’ Professor Brian Sharkey, author of Fitness And Health, told us. Time trials are a great way to improve your engine and pacing for sportives, and have no doubt helped Kittel learn how to keep his engine revved up in those finish-line sprints.

To find a TT near you, visit cyclingtimetrials.org.uk.

Hit the gym

What? Being a sprinter is all about power but that doesn’t come naturally, it’s something you have to work at – and Kittel knows what he has to do.

‘In the winter I’m really busy in the gym, doing a lot of squats – around 120kg – and core workouts,’ he told us. Weighted squats and core strength programs will push your muscles to the limit.

How? By engaging your quads in gym workouts you force your legs to work under a stressed load, so when it comes to sprinting they can produce more explosive energy.

Much like Usain Bolt who trains with weights while running, Kittel does a similar thing. ‘The focus is on high weights and low repetitions to build power output,’ he explained, meaning that two sets of six squats at a heavy weight for you will trigger your muscles into producing more power if trained over time.

Being a professional athlete, Kittel can push 120kg multiple times. That’s a lot of weight if you’re not used to it, so start low and work your way up, adding weight until you feel you’re close to your max.

Tailored soles? Step right this way

What? Being a pro means that Marcel Kittel is privy to the most niche improvements in cycling. Like most pros, Kittel has custom-fitted shoes that provide the best support and stability without being too stiff and uncomfortable.

‘Every foot is different so when racing on a professional level, you need your insoles to be customised to your foot,’ Kittel revealed.

Some of us here at BikesEtc know exactly what Marcel is talking about, with high arches and unforgiving soles sometimes putting an end to what would be an otherwise lovely Sunday ride.

How? Thankfully this is one bit of tech that won’t break the bank (try Bontrager inForm Footbeds, £24.99, trekbikes.com). Simply by placing a pair of these in the oven before popping them in your shoes followed by your feet means they can adjust and provide support, setting into shape as they cool.

These are great solutions if you can’t seem to get on board with the stiffness of some shoes or if you have high arches.

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