Celebrating the start of the tenth season for WorldTour KATUSHA ALPECIN, the international Suisse team welcomed sponsors, journalists, friends and family to Robinson Club Cala Serena (Mallorca, Spain) on Saturday with a multi-media team presentation and private dinner to kick off the 2018 season. A full roster of 26 riders from sixteen countries was presented via a clever ‘inside the team’ experience that featured riders on the bus, in the KATUSHA Café as well as the showers at Paris-Roubaix, answering questions and sharing their goals and ambitions for the upcoming year.
“2017 was a big step ahead for me after a difficult prior year,” said Marcel Kittel. “I won five stages at the Tour that I am very proud of and feel highly motivated to be at the top again. It really satisfies me. I was so happy to be able to come back to a level I had seen in the past. My next big target will be getting used to my new teammates and see how we work together – that’s not even thinking about winning yet. Having a great lead out team on this international Team KATUSHA ALPECIN is a good motivator for me. I think this is a good fit and I feel we can achieve something together. I feel very comfortable here.”
With almost a week of training already behind them, the 2018 squad, including leaders Ilnur Zakarin, Kittel and Tony Martin, look ready to take on the new season and continue to improve on past results. So far, General Manager José Azevedo likes what he’s seen on the roads of Mallorca. Last year there was a large turn-over in both staff and riders, but the core group stayed together this year with only seven new riders joining the group. For Azevedo, this provides desired stability for the team:
“The ambiance of our group is good. Our staff continue to work well together and they spend so much time communicating with our riders and making sure they have what they need. This area of communication is very important to me, especially as we bring new riders into our cycling family and desire to integrate them as quickly as possible. In the last 5-6 days I think we have seen that everything is going in the direction we want,” said GM Azevedo.
Reflecting back on a season that saw 17 wins coming from six different riders, as well as 150 top ten placings from sixteen more riders, Azevedo sees a bright future for the upcoming season, most notably the addition of top sprinter German Marcel Kittel:
“We have a core team that will be stronger than last year and with the exception of Alexander Kristoff, they have all continued with us. We need to thank Alex for the six years he raced with Katusha and all of the victories he brought to us. Now we move forward with another big sprinter in Marcel Kittel and I see him currently as the best sprinter in the world, as evidenced by his five stage wins in this year’s Tour de France. We have riders to work for him and prepare the lead out. I think this group of riders will support Marcel in the best way. We also have a good rider who is useful in the preparation for the sprint, Alex Dowsett. We need to see improvement in our time trials, as well as our team time trials and I think we will see this help come from him.”
The big presence of Kittel does not overshadow other riders or team ambitions, however, and Azevedo is quick to point out that the potential for success goes deep in KATUSHA ALPECIN. Ilnur Zakarin, third in the Vuelta a España this year, will ride the Tour de France in 2018 for the first time.
“I have goals for the Tour even though it is a race that will be new for me. I hope to see myself make the top five. I had some doubts the middle week of the Vuelta, but I kept getting stronger and realized how good I was feeling. It is good to know this happens in the big tours and I will come with more experience to my next three-week race. My condition was very good at the end,” said Ilnur Zakarin.
Azevedo added, “We see his third-place finish in the Vuelta a España as a huge step for him. The group we have around him is strong. Ian Boswell is a rider who can provide good support for Ilnur. Simon Špilak has also stepped up with the one-week races and of course we have Tony Martin, 4-time world time trial champion and Olympic silver medalist who still has more to give to the sport of cycling. We also have some young riders who are displaying promising talent. Of course, we have a plan for them that looks to the future, and we plan to help them continue to improve and be on a good level,” said José Azevedo.
Tony Martin was new to the team last year, but has settled in nicely and welcomes his old friend, Marcel Kittel: “It’s very nice to have Marcel in the team. He’s my good friend and he gives me so much motivation for my own riding. He’s also super nice and a good person. I feel more confident now in the team and very comfortable. It’s not my first year anymore – now the pressure is on him,” Martin said with a laugh.
KATUSHA ALPECIN for 2018: Maxim Belkov (RUS), Jenthe Biermans (BEL), Ian Boswell (USA), Steff Cras (BEL), Alex Dowsett (GB), Matteo Fabbro (ITA), José Gonçalves (POR), Nathan Haas (AUS), Marco Haller (AUT), Reto Hollenstein (SUI), Robert Kišerlovski (CRO), Marcel Kittel (GER), Pavel Kochetkov (RUS), Viacheslav Kuznetsov (RUS), Maurits Lammertink (NED), Tiago Machado (POR), Tony Martin (GER), Marco Mathis (GER), Baptiste Planckaert (BEL), Nils Politt (GER), Jhonatan Restrepo (COL), Simon Špilak (SLO), Mads Würtz Schmidt (DEN), Willie Smit (SA), Rick Zabel (GER), Ilnur Zakarin (RUS)..