Marcel Kittel Interview: Back winning after a media bruising
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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Marcel Kittel Interview: Back winning after a media bruising

by Shane Stokes at 7:39 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping
 
German rider asserts innocence after being linked to Franke investigation

Marcel KittelFight or flight: both are known human responses to stressful situations. In Marcel Kittel’s case, he’s chosen the first, as evidenced by his stage win on Thursday’s second stage of the Étoile de Bessèges. The 1T4I rider had placed second on day one, then seized the race leader’s jersey when he outsprinted Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM), stage one victor Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat) and the rest of the bunch to the line at the end of the weather-shortened stage.

“I didn’t feel really good because the circumstances were a little bit strange, the weather was not good and in the end the bunch decided not to race until near the finish line,” he told VeloNation, speaking by phone from his team hotel. “Then on the five last laps we had a race. It was a little bit strange, but anyway a victory is a victory.”

Kittel was likely to face a bit of pressure this year, in terms of trying to live up to his stunning pro debut last season when he set a record eighteen wins in his first year in the bunch. However he’s found himself under a lot more scrutiny than that due to a programme by German broadcaster ARD last Sunday which linked his name to a doping investigation.

The doctor Andreas Franke had been working at an Olympic training site in Erfurt, and Kittel was named by the show as one of those who had been treated there. In addition to that, he was said to have undergone a treatment where a quantity of blood was extracted, treated with UV light and then reinjected into the body.

The practice is forbidden by WADA under the category of blood manipulation. However the anti-doping agency verified to VeloNation in recent days that it was only added to the banned list in 2011; according to Kittel, who was with the amateur Thuringer Energie team at the time, the last time he had the treatment done was in 2008.

He said it was carried out in response to illness, that he was told that it was completely legal, and that he decided himself to stop the treatments.

As things stand, he’s got a green light to race. He insists he is completely innocent, and he believes the matter will blow over in time and he will be proven innocent.

Speaking to VeloNation today, he talked openly and frankly about the case and how he said his reputation has been mangled by the claims German media has made.

“If you see your name on television, on a big TV show in a report where they speak about blood doping and really bad things, I was absolutely shocked,” he told VeloNation on Thursday. “For me, personally, it was really unbelievable. Just a nightmare. I felt really bad afterwards.”

Despite that, he appeared to rule out legal action. “That is something I did not think about until now,” he admitted. “I just have to wait. I think this is not something that is going to happen as I don’t know if the result [suing the press – ed.] would help me.”

Instead, Kittel will aim to keep winning, occupying his mind and his body with the demands and rewards of pro cycling while the investigators look deeper into the world of Dr. Andreas Franke.

Given that he was working at a German Olympic training centre, the decisions of athletes to be treated by him seems a very different one than the clandestine actions of those who attended Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes – officially a gynecologist rather than a sports doctor - during the Operacion Puerto case.

“This is something that makes me really angry, because some things are simply not true,” he said with conviction, referring to the allegations.

In the interview below, Kittel talks about his stage two victory in the Étoile de Bessèges, the stress of the allegations made against him, his dealings with Doctor Franke in the Olympic sports centre in Erfurt, his superb 2011 season and his ambitions for 2012.

VeloNation: You won today’s stage of the Etoile de Besseges, having had a stressful week after some aspects of German media made allegations against you and other sportspeople. How was the victory for you, mentally?

Marcel Kittel: Well, the whole week was really difficult before, and even on the first stage of the Etoile de Besseges, it was not really easy to concentrate on the race. Of course, a lot of time my thoughts were somewhere else and not directly on the race.

That is another reason why I am happy that today was much better. I didn’t feel really good because the circumstances were a little bit strange, the weather was not good and in the end the bunch decided not to race until the finish line. Then on the five last laps we had a race. It was a little bit strange, but anyway a victory is a victory. For everyone in the peloton it was the same, so it was okay.

VN: How cold were you on the bike?

MK: I think it was minus two or minute one, then at the finish it was plus one or plus two degrees. So it was not really nice. But we have good clothing so that is not really a problem.

They say it could be colder tomorrow. I am not sure if there is sun or rain or snow or whatever. I think it will be dry or something like this, but it will be colder.

VN: Can you talk about what this last week has been like for you?

MK: [Sighs]. Well, where can I start… If you see your name on television, on a big TV show in a report where they speak about blood doping and just really bad things, I was absolutely shocked. For me, personally, it was really unbelievable. Just a nightmare. I felt really bad afterwards.

VN: I’ve read that this doctor was officially appointed as an Olympic doctor, there to oversee young riders?

MK: Since 2004 I lived in Erfurt. I went to the special school for sports and I also did my training there. We had an Olympic sports centre where all the athletes did their training. They went to a sauna, they had a gym there, they could get a massage, and things like that.

Of course there was also a doctor….I think that is quite normal for high level sports. Every athlete went to the doctor if he was sick or injured or things like that. I did exactly the same. When I was sick, I went to him.

In 2007, he recommended that treatment to me. I thought okay, he is the doctor, I trust him and why should I not believe it is good. Of course, when he explained it to me, I thought it might be a little bit strange, but he is the doctor.

I asked him if it was doping or not, and he said to me, ‘no it is not.’ I think as an 18 year old person, you perhaps are not strong enough to say at the moment that you don’t want it. I never knew of it, but I trusted him completely because everyone else went to him.

VN: You were with the Thuringer Energie team then. Your current team, 1T4I, has backed you and said that the amount taken out for UV treatment was very small…

MK: Yes, it was never more than 50 ml of blood.

VN: You said you were sick when treated by the doctor – what was wrong?

MK: Just normal things, when you have a cold or a flu. He said that treatment supports your immune system. I did it. After a few times, I felt strange [about it] and then in 2008, I said ‘I don’t want it any more. It is a strange treatment, and we should stop it.’ He said okay.

VN: WADA has told VeloNation that the treatment wasn’t banned until 2011, three years after you say you stopped. So there was no rule against it at the time. Do you feel angry with the German TV for how this has been handled?

Marcel KittelMK: Yeah.. In general I feel angry about the whole report, as it looks like they just created it to make real big news. There are only a few things that are correct. They speak about blood doping, they speak about infusions and transfusions and all those stupid things. They have a list and they have clients…like the whole thing in the Fuentes case [Operacion Puerto – ed.]

Of course, if you say something like this, all the people think directly, ‘okay, another scandal similar to the one from Fuentes.’ But there is such a big difference and that is something that makes me really angry, because some things are simply not true. They just say some names, they said my name without saying when I did it [the treatment], or why it is stupid.

VN: What do you need to restore your name – do you need to take legal action?

MK: I don’t know. That is something I did not think about until now. I just have to wait. I think this is not something that is going to happen as I don’t know if the result [suing the press – ed.] would help me.

VN: So you just wait until the investigation finishes and your name is cleared?

MK: Yes.

VN: Last year, you took 18 wins, which is believed to be the highest debut total for a neo-pro. Was that season far bigger than you expected?

MK: 2011? Yeah…I expected to maybe win a race at the end of 2011 when I found my way into the pro races. It was just unbelievable how things turned out. I am really proud and happy about that, but that is something that makes me really angry because when I watched the TV report, I thought that afterwards more people knew my name in relation to that report, instead of knowing my name from my successes. Because I think there was never a report about my personal success last year.

VN: I spoke to you in Langkawi after you won a stage there in a big sprint. You said then that you considered yourself a time trial rider, then you won that stage and the flow of victories started after that. Has your perception of yourself changed - do you see yourself in a different way now?

MK: Yeah, I think for me it is now clear that I want to become a top sprinter. I want to improve, of course, and I also want to sprint against the best. That is my big goal for this year. For the time trial, I will maybe focus on some prologues, but the most important thing for me at the moment is the sprint. I am going to work on that.

VN: What was your biggest moment from last year?

MK: Every race.. I think a lot of times last year I was just in a flow where everything is easy. It is difficult to explain, but I enjoyed racing so much. I never did it so much before in my career…every race was nice. I cannot say that I did a race where I said, ‘ah, I don’t want to do that again.’ Of course, when you are successful, then everything is easy.

VN: But presumably the Vuelta stage win was a very big point of the year?

MK: Yeah, of course. The win there was nice, also the wins in the Tour of Poland. The whole Tour of Poland was a real nice race…a lot of spectators, nice stages…there was a nice week there.

VN: If you look to this season, have you laid out goals for it?

MK: Of course I have some goals for this year. The first goal for spring is just to do races where I can sprint again the best sprinters. The Tour of Oman is one of those races, and Paris-Nice as well. Then I want to focus on the Tour de France, if we get an invitation. That would be my big goal then.

VN: What chance does the team have of getting a Tour wildcard?

Marcel KittelMK: I think they are not bad, because if you look at our race programme, there is Paris-Nice on it and a lot of other races. I think the team has a good connection with ASO, and I hope that we can start there. It would be really nice.

VN: You have the race lead in Besseges – what are your chances for the next few days?

MK: Well, I hope the weather will stay like this or become a little bit better. We will see….I have the lead now here, but tomorrow is a difficult stage. I don’t expect that I will be there for the general classification. It is my first race and I want to be in real good shape a little bit later. That’s my plan. Also, if I look at the team, there are other guys who have more chances on that stage tomorrow and also for the rest of the stage race. But we will see.

I hope we can find a good tactic and we will just give it our best. I think that is the most important point at the moment.

VN: Oman should have some good sprint stages for you…

MK: I think so..I hope so! That is the reason why I want to go there…

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