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As much as he is famed for a sprinting prowess that saw him amass 32 WorldTour stage victories, ex-professional cyclist Marcel Kittel is now known for something else too – a refusal to be trapped by convention.
You don’t have to talk to Kittel for long before it becomes crystal clear that this is a man who follows his heart. “It’s always been important for me to do what I think is right,” says Kittel, “to have a little compass inside myself to follow.” It was this philosophy that led a 22-year-old Kittel in 2010 to quit his computer science degree at university – a choice his parents weren’t thrilled by at the time – to take a chance on his first pro cycling offer with Dutch team Skil-Shimano. Nine years on, the same Kittel philosophy led him to take a far greater decision: to hang up his wheels as a pro.
Especially since Kittel is not just any pro. At his prime, the German cyclist from Arnstadt was hailed as one of the fastest sprinters in the world with unparalleled power. 6ft 2 and all muscle, he took on the likes of Sagan, Cavendish and Greipel, pushing unmatchable watts to win some of the most prestigious sprints of the cycling season – from the Grand Départ to the Champs-Élysées.
“To make a decision like that is really, really difficult,” Kittel says. “You need to decide what’s good for you and your future, which requires a deep look inside yourself. After I got out of my contract with my last team, my immediate reaction was to look for a new one. I thought this is the logic thing to do. But I was suddenly in a situation where I was free of any contracts and obligations and could take time for myself to think about what makes me happy and what I want in the future. I realised that my priorities had changed, and also the perception of my career as a pro cyclist.”
In 2015 I had a difficult season with sickness in the beginning of the year and not being able to achieve my goals. That gave me the first time a really hard time after very successful years before and it felt like my sport and being a pro really hurt me a lot in that period. So I decided to create change in my life with changing teams, moving away from home, training over the winter in Spain… to set new goals and challenges. That helped me a lot and was a great lesson and confrontation with myself.
After 2 very successful years in Quickstep I thought change was good for me and I got involved in a new team and project. Unfortunately, that turned out to be very different and again I was confronted with the question of “What makes me happy? And is this still what I want?” After a long time of thinking about it, I decided that I wanted something else in my life and ended my career as a pro.
When Kittel announced his retirement in August 2019, his first baby was on the way too. “I couldn’t imagine living the life of a professional cyclist and being a dad too – I wanted to see my children grow up. So the idea to sign a new contract as pro was slowly less and less appealing to me and I decided I could maybe find a new way to combine my passion for cycling while also making space for new things in my life,” he says.
These days, Kittel gets to spend a lot more time at home with his girlfriend Tess, herself an ex-professional athlete, and their new son Lex, in Kreuzlingen – the Swiss-German harbour town that’s got it all for a cyclist: Alpine climbs, far-reaching flats along the shores of Lake Constance, and deep green forests. And while Kittel’s priority has shifted from time in the saddle to enjoying new beginnings at home, his relationship with cycling is enjoying a brand new beginning of its own. Because now Kittel gets to pick any discipline he fancies, a fact clearly echoed by his diverse bike collection of road, cyclo-cross, gravel, cross-country and mountain bikes.
Yet, in embracing his new future away from the wearing extremes of the world stage, Kittel is quick to admit that he is still very much on a journey to find balance in life. A new rhythm between the roles of dad and student of economics at the local university. So why Endura, and why now? “I didn’t want to leave pro cycling behind and just do something completely different, to not have any relationship with the sport at all. You need to know that I´m proud of my career and still love riding my bike.” Kittel explains.
I was looking to stay involved to reignite my passion for the sport and to also refocus on what I love about riding my bike. That´s being outside in nature, having fun with friends and forgetting for a few hours about what else is going on in the world. No pressure, just fun. I wasn´t pushing to be involved with any cycling company because it was important that a the choice of brand should be a “natural fit” and based on shared values and ideas. So, when I met Pam and Jim and got a good look at the company, I realised that this possible partnership felt all very good and authentic. It´s great to be part of Endura now and I´m looking forward to be with them to focus on good, innovative products and having fun on the bike.
SUPPORTING POSITIVE CHANGE
With a pamarès like Kittel’s, it goes without saying that his experience will be highly valued in the continued improvement of Endura’s professional cycling lines like the Pro SL. But he’s also looking forward to broadening his interests across the range to fit his new, more ‘everyday’ lifestyle – from commutes to café rides – not only to aid new and existing product development, but to support growth within cycling beyond racing, too.
“There’s a lot going on in the sport right now,” Kittel says. “Indoor trainers and gravel are getting really big, there are the developments in e-cycling, and we are seeing women get more of the attention they deserve; I would be very happy if we see more change in that direction.
Kittel is not someone to shy away from speaking out about the sport he loves. “I’ve always said what I think, because it’s important to have an opinion. You don’t always have to speak your mind, but sometimes it’s simply necessary.” Kittel is talking, in particular, about cycling’s doping problem. When he arrived on the pro scene, the sport was facing a difficult period. “It was important to provide an alternative to the idea that all cyclists are dirty and use substances,” he says. “Talking about it helps to move the sport forward.” And move forward it did.
While Kittel says the work to ensure a clean race is certainly not yet done, he believes he made, alongside other riders and teams, good progress in helping to see a transformation in the sport during his time as a pro. Indeed, Kittel’s cycling legacy amounts to far more – and something far more relatable to us all – than the victories from his unstoppable sprint domination, the stints in the malliot jaune, and of course – the famous quiff.
MORE THAN VICTORIES
“The history books won’t forget my achievements – that’s my mark right there. But in the end,” he considers, “my personal wish would be that, through my decision to move on to something else, I can help give people the idea that life isn’t a one-way street. There are so many things you can do, whether that’s becoming a professional cyclist or a good guitar player. You just have to do what’s right for you – it’s probably never too late to change.”
“It’s also important to be honest about the fact that it’s not always possible to take the decision to follow your dreams in the way that I did last year, everyone needs to make a living. But if you can find a way of making it work, even just to try something new? That’s never wrong, one hundred per cent.” Kittel says with conviction.
“I didn’t start out with the goal of being a professional cyclist, or winning a stage at the Tour de France. I just cycled because I liked it and suddenly there was a chance to take. And now, I feel such a strong confirmation of my choices every morning when I wake up with Tess and Lex. Ultimately, if you follow your heart a little bit, then you won’t end up in the wrong place. I really believe that.
Photos: © ENDURA
ENDURA - My new partner2020-03-06
Dear friends, fans and companions,
I would like to tell you all today that I am ending my career as a pro cyclist. [more]
statement on my future
On my request Team Katusha-Alpecin and I mutually decided to an early termination of my current contract. [more]
Thoughts about Erfurt
I have been home at Lake Constance since Sunday and after landing, I got this message: "Supposedly another one is coming out.Tomorrow. [more]
First race after the Tour in Thüringen
Hi dear fans, after my unlucky exit from the Tour, I have trained a lot in the last days and have been able to distract myself a bit. [more]
Third in the Tour opener
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough today for the win. But I a very satisfied with third place, because I feel very well, the legs are strong and I am in Tour modus. [more]
Finally Tour time
I am full in the Tour mood. The presentation yesterday was great. It feels good to pick up the fans’ enthusiasm. [more]
Pre-Tour anticipation and concentration
Of course I would have loved to go to the Tour with the national champion's jersey. And yes, of course I am disappointed that it didn’t work out. [more]
No start in Gent-Wevelgem
Actually, I wanted to start in Gent-Wevelgem tomorrow. But together with the team, I have changed the plan. [more]
Lessons from the Milan-Sanremo premiere
Phew. At the end my lights just went totally out. On the Cipressa I totally fell apart. My oven was totally out. [more]
Second win in Tirreno
What a team performance! Our plan worked out perfectly. We wanted to control the race from the very start, let a small group go and then set up the optimal sprint. [more]
At last, no longer a rookie in Italy
Phew. A very large load fell away from me today. At last! The first win this year. A journalist told me today that it had been eight months since the last time I won. [more]
Thüringer male athlete of the year and donations
After a real travel marathon, I am finally getting into the Christmas mood. [more]
Days of uncertainty for cycling
I must admit that I was shocked when I heard the news about Chris Froome's suspicious doping control. You all probably felt the same way that Tony and I did. [more]
Training camp and votes for Athlete of the Year
I have been back in training for about a month now and today finally put in the first kilometers with my new team. [more]
Tour 2018 presentation
Of course I am happy that the Tour de France 2018 starts with a flat stage. I expect a spectacular sprint. [more]
Four people on the line
What a photo finish – four people on the line. I have never been part of that before. Unfortunately I came from behind a fraction of a second too late. [more]
I will wear the Quick-Step colors tomorrow at the Münsterland Giro for the last time – and I am really looking forward to this race. [more]
Preparing for the final highlights
After the Cyclassics and the Sport Bild Award in Hamburg, where I was honoured, I am again at home. Unfortunately things in Hamburg did not go as I had wanted. [more]
There is news
After two years I will leave my current team Quick-Step Floors and as of 2018 I will ride for Katusha-Alpecin. [more]
The legs are good, the form is right too – but I still need a little something to come mentally back into the form I need to go all out in these top-class sprints. [more]
Leaving the Tour, but the five wins remain
Now it is over. Unfortunately I won’t make it to Paris this year. The crash today was the knock-out punch. [more]
Working on Mission Green
Rest day at last! After my fifth stage win at this year’s Tour, we sprinters have had to survive some hard days until tomorrow’s rest day. [more]
Four stage wins at the halfway mark and the German record
It is simply unbelievable, to have already won four stages. With 1775 kilometers we are only halfway through the Tour 2017. When it goes good, it goes good. [more]
Starting with mourning armband
Today a great cycling trainer, companion and friend died. That is why I started today wearing a mourning armband. [more]
Winning by six millimeters
The finish line surprised me today. It came earlier than I thought it would. I had to give my all and think that I now have longer arms than before. [more]
Second stage win at the Tour 2017
Yeah! Second win at the Tour. That was my kind of sprint. Thanks to the team. The guys gave everything for me and brought me to the front perfectly in a hectic finale. [more]
An emotional win
I am super proud of this stage win. Being able to give the fans a German victory at the Grand Depart in Germany is an indescribable feeling. [more]
Ninth in the prologue
My ears still hurt from the noise along the course. It was totally crazy, how many people were out there despite the awful weather. [more]
Go to the Tour
After the German championship in chemnitz, I once again went through blown in the home before going to düsseldorf. I'm so glad it's finally going off. [more]
A chain problem in the finale
About 200 meters before the finish line a speed bump stopped me in the finale – well actually, it was my chain. [more]
Altitude training in Colorado
After my return to racing in the Tour of California, I am now in Colorado for an altitude training camp to get the last bit for the Tour. [more]
Winning at home
Fifth win in the Scheldeprijs! By now it feels like my home race. I could win today thanks to great teamwork – and it was a very special win. It was Tom’s farewell appearance in Belgium. [more]
Victory at the Three Days of de Panne
Crash, chasing back, win. What a finale in the next-to-last stage of the Three Days of de Panne! Crashing 15 km before the finish is really a bad idea. [more]
Training in the sun and "Biking for PSP"
Greetings from sunny Spain. I have fled from the weather at home and am now putting in my kilometers in Spain, where I am preparing for the upcoming races. [more]
In the wind too soon
Today I absolutely wanted to win, but in the end I was really surprised by the wind and was up front too early. One more man would have been better, or I could have taken the risk and jumped forward from rear wheel to rear wheel with Saba. [more]
Yesterday a crash, today a victory
I am overjoyed that after yesterday’s setback, I could win the second stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour. [more]
Back in the desert
This will really be a meeting of the sprinters. And from the GC riders, only Christopher Froome is missing, otherwise we would have the perfect line-up like at a Grand Tour. [more]
Overall title in Dubai
Three wins, the overall title and my eighth win ever here in Dubai. This season start gives me a lot of self-confidence. The team was great. [more]
A shame for our sport
Today I thought I was in the wrong sport. Not cycling but martial arts. [more]
Second win in second race
Second win in second race, and my seventh overall here in Dubai. I am super happy with this win today, even if it didn’t come about as perfectly as yesterday. [more]