Marcel Kittel will fill the void left by Mark Cavendish’s departure at Etixx-QuickStep after the Belgian team confirmed his signing from Giant-Alpecin.
The German sprinter, who won four Tour de France stages in both 2013 and 2014, has suffered a season ravaged by illness and injury in 2015.
That led to Kittel missing out on Giant-Alpecin’s Tour de France squad – something he called one of the most difficult moments of his career – and soured relations with the team to the extent both parties agreed to end his contract a year early.
Since winning the People’s Choice Classic, the precursor to the Tour Down Under in January, Kittel has triumphed just once in 2015 – taking victory on the opening day of the Tour of Poland.
That victory was, however, the 60th of a pro career which had, until this point, been spent entirely with Giant-Alpecin and the team’s various precursors.
He said: “After my last setback, where I had to skip still more races, it became clear to me that I want to make a fresh start after a physically and mentally difficult year.
“When I shared this wish with the team, I was aware that it’s uncommon to release a rider from his contract before the end of the term.
“Therefore, I very much appreciate that Team Giant-Alpecin placed my personal wishes above the concern of losing a rider so late in the season and that it was receptive to my request to try and find a new team, which is something quite rare in the hard world of elite sports.”
A Giant-Alpecin statement said the release of the German showed their commitment to the long-term and ‘ensuring continuous development of the athletes and the team, as well as bringing through new cycling stars’.
The team’s SEO, Iwan Spekenbrink added: “Marcel is a great athlete and it will be good for the sport of cycling, for the fans and, most importantly, for Marcel himself if he can produce great sprints again next season, which was an additional argument to respond favourably to his request.”
Etixx-QuickStep confirmed the transfer just days after welcoming a new German sponsor, supermarket giants Lidl, on board.
The news comes just a week after Cavendish and lead-out man Mark Renshaw were confirmed to be leaving the QuickStep ranks to join MTN-Qhubeka (to be known as Team Dimension Data for 2016).
Kittel will now fill the void left by his rival’s departure, joining rising Colombian star Fernando Gaviria at the forefront of the team’s sprinting arsenal.
Etixx-QuickStep CEO Patrick Lefevere said: “In the last years he showed incredible pure speed, which makes him one of the best sprinters in the history of the sport. As a team we will do our best to put him in the right condition, building a group of riders around him.
“He showed his potential in just a few years time, with dominating performances among his palmares. We are sure that, together, we can achieve more big goals, and that we have yet to see the best of Marcel Kittel.”
Kittel added: “I want to thank the team for the faith they’ve put in me, and that they will support me in this new chapter of my career.
“I am looking forward to the new challenges of Etixx – Quick-Step, a team, I consider as one of the best teams in the world. This team has one of the best, well organized structures around its riders.
“Etixx – Quick-Step offers me a great, highly professional environment, where I can continue to develop and improve. I am also happy that I have a few friends on this team already, including Tony Martin.
“Tony is one of my best friends in cycling. We rode together when we were younger, and I can’t wait to do it again at the professional level.”