Michael Pavitt

From a British perspective I remember the start of the 100th Tour de France in 2013 being centered around whether Mark Cavendish could take the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.

Cavendish at the time had secured 23 stage wins at the race and spent the previous year wearing the world champion's rainbow jersey.

It was, I guess, unsurprising that British television would be focused around the impending achievement of a man seemingly at the peak of his powers.

However sport, and particularly cycling, has the ability to be completely unpredictable.

Fast forward a couple of hours and the centre of attention was the Orica–GreenEDGE team bus, which had become wedged under the finishing gantry in Corsica to put the finish itself at risk.

The finish was revised and then put back as the bus eventually rolled away. In the meantime, a large crash had either taken down or delayed several of the key sprinters, including Cavendish.

Germany's Marcel Kittel was viewed as the man to benefit from the chaos as he came through to sprint for the stage victory and the first yellow jersey of the centenary edition of the race.

Kittel was perhaps unheralded with the British audience, with fellow German André Greipel taking the role as chief rival to Cavendish in sprints at the time.

If normal service was expected to resume in the remainder of the sprint stages, Kittel had different ideas.

Marcel Kittel wins the first stage of the Tour de France in 2013 ©Getty Images
Marcel Kittel wins the first stage of the Tour de France in 2013 ©Getty Images

While Cavendish took two sprint wins, Kittel would clinch a further three. His haul included a triumph on the final stage in Paris, where his British rival had been the victor for the past four years.

Kittel continued to be the spoiler in British eyes by winning the opening stage for the second successive year in Harrogate, where Cavendish crashed out in front of a home crowd in Yorkshire.

He took a further three stage wins at the race to reaffirm himself as the new dominant sprinter in the peloton.

The German announced earlier this week that he was retiring from the sport, aged just 31.

The writing appeared to be on the wall in recent months, with Kittel splitting from his Katusha-Alpecin team mid-season. At the time, Kittel said he was to take a break from the sport to think about his goals and plan for the future.

Confirming his decision to retire, Kittel said that he had determined that he did not want to continue to make the sacrifices required to remain a world class athlete.

"I have always been one to openly question and reflect when such things happen, so that I can learn and become better," he wrote. 

"That, together with the people around me, has made me the successful athlete that I now am, but this method has also taught me to leave my old ways and learn new ones. I know that there is much more than just sport, for example my own future family.

"Recently the thought on this future without cycling has grown, as has the awareness of the sacrifices that such a beautiful but also very difficult sport like cycling brings with it.

"The biggest question of the last few months was 'can I and do I want to continue to make the sacrifices needed to be a world-class athlete?'

"And my answer is 'no, I do not want that any more', because I have always found the limitations on a top athlete as an increasing loss of quality of life.

"That is why I am very happy and proud that at this point in my life I can make the decision to follow my heart in a new direction."

Kittel's decision is one which deserves respect, given that he could have easily opted to go through the motions on large contract with a diminished desire to compete at the demands his team would likely have required.

He also appears to be a rare case of an athlete being able to decide on their own terms when to leave a sport, before either age or injury catches up with them.

Kittel, who ended his career with 14 stage wins at the Tour de France and 89 victories in total, also proved influential off the bike.

Marcel Kittel was influential off the bike as well as his success on it ©Getty Images
Marcel Kittel was influential off the bike as well as his success on it ©Getty Images

Just as the German managed to shake up the sprint hierarchy back in 2013, he was not afraid to do so on other matters. 

Kittel was outspoken around the process regarding the Professional Cyclists Association last year, while he was among those who campaigned for a law against doping to be introduced in Germany.

His success at the race was partly viewed as a reason for German broadcaster ARD returning to cover the Tour de France back in 2015, following a three-year hiatus.

Kittel's styled bleach blonde hair was also famed. Famed to the extent that German shampoo brand Alpecin were said to have been keen for him to join Katusha to help promote their brand.

With success on the bike and a high profile of it, there is no doubt professional cycling will miss Kittel.