The 32-year-old German, winner of his country's national road race in 2010, has been hailed by some as Sky's hidden gem during their successful Tour de France campaign in 2012.
Knees was one of Bradley Wiggins’ most valuable team-mates in last year’s victory for Sky, and will play a major part in the latter’s bid for Giro d’Italia success.
And in the latest Eurosport 'Toursday' piece, counting down to the 2013 edition, we caught up with Knees to discuss, last summer in France, the Olympics playing the role of 'domestique' and whether he sometimes feels under-appreciated...
Eurosport: Last year’s Tour de France was undoubtedly the highlight of the season for you. Your selection was only confirmed 10 days before the race. How did you feel when you found out you would be going?
CK: I was quite confident that I would be going, but you’re never totally sure until you get told, so of course it was very nice to be selected, especially as we were going with a good chance of winning. But it never really becomes real until you’re there waiting at the start line.
I did feel pressure, but that was only the pressure I was putting on myself. If I want to reach a goal, I’m always the one putting the most pressure on myself, more so than the team. Around eight weeks before the start of the Tour I was really pushing myself hard to get the best performance and make sure I would be there.
I know I have the skill and I will do everything I can to reach it. Normally the closer I come to races the less I’m relaxed, but I’m 32 now and have a lot of experience and have learnt to relax more and that if I want to push myself harder and harder, I have to be calm at the same time.
After last year’s Tour de France, did you feel the celebrations were cut short because of the London Olympics so soon after?
Yes definitely, because of the Olympics the celebration was really short. We only had two or three hours after the race, then all the British guys left to go home and get ready. We had a team meeting in October, so we had a small celebration then, but there hasn’t really been a good chance to get the whole team together and have a proper celebration, which is a shame.
Your role in the team is to provide support to your team-mates, explain the role of a domestique and your responsibilities within the team.
It includes many different things. I have to be aware at all times of what’s going on in the race, I have to be alert to when things change. When there’s a break I have to know who’s in it, how many riders there are, and if it contains any rivals for the GC or sprint.
I have to react based on what’s happening, you are the eyes and ears of the peloton. I’m helped by communicating with the team directors, as they can help explain time gaps of breakaways for example. Being alert is key as this helps with tactics and planning a move which benefits the team.
As a domestique you are there to support the key rider for that stage, making sure they are as fresh as possible going into an important climb or sprint finish. This means I have to ride a lot in the wind, with them behind on my wheel protecting them to conserve their energy.
This can also mean looking at the bunch and deciding on a position where would be the best place to save energy and also where a crash is least likely to happen. The role is all about protection and looking after your team-mates to ensure they get the best results possible, it’s a very selfless job.
This changes from day to day, it’s a lot easier to control a breakaway in the mountains. Say if 30 guys break away from the pack it’s unusual all of them are strong climbers. Normally only about five are capable in the mountains, so they can be caught easier so we can afford to be more patient and know that eventually we will catch them. But on the flat stages when it’s easier for them to ride together and help each other, they’re much harder to catch. This is when I have to be more alert, and know what the time gaps are so we can plan a move.
The other side to it is the lead-out for the sprinters which I like. I’m not a proper lead-out guy but it’s fun to be involved especially when you don’t have to fight for position and the finish is nice and smooth.
Looking back at last year’s Tour, was there a stage that was particularly difficult for you?
There are always times especially over a three week race where you have a bad day and difficult moments, but that’s the good thing about the team. When it’s not going well for you there’s another guy who’s having a good day and can do the work for you. Then maybe the next day when he’s suffering and you’re feeling better, you can repay the favour.
I had one really bad day last year on a flat stage, I did my job as long as I could but then Bernie Eisel took over and brought Brad safely to the finish.
Do you think cycling gets enough recognition as a team sport?
It’s not recognised as much as it should be because people just see riders alone on the road. You have to explain to people that most of the time you win a race because of the help from your team. There are times you can win on your own, maybe in a break away to win one race or one stage. But in general if you want to win many stages or consistently finish highly then you need the help of your team.
Do you ever feel under-appreciated, perhaps not getting the credit you deserve?
No not really, last year I was really happy with the feedback I was getting. People were seeing that I did my job well. This maybe wasn’t recognised as much in previous years, but last year especially people really saw the hard work I was putting in, so I was really happy with that.
We spoke to Mark Cavendish and he named you as his un-sung hero due to the work you did at last year’s Tour. What do you think of that?
Of course it’s nice to be honoured by other teammates, it makes me very proud and very happy to do it. Before I came to Sky I was at Milram for five years, and I had my chances there to win races and I was one of the leaders of the team and I could do whatever I wanted. I tried to win as many races throughout the season but I didn’t win many.
I found out I’m much better in this role, I get just as much satisfaction knowing I helped someone else win a race. You can be one of 100 or 200 guys going for the race win or you can be one of the best domestiques, and my decision was I wanted to do this job and I wanted to be the best so I have stick my nose into the wind to get it done.
Do you think Team Sky’s season has been successful so far?
Yeah I think so. We can’t complain. Chris Froome won the Tour of Oman and then came second at the Tirreno. Richie (Porte) won Paris-Nice and came close at Tour of the Basque Country. So it’s been a successful season, it was always going to be hard to try and compete with last season but we’ve been on the same level again I think, so it’s good.
Do you have a cycling hero, or maybe a favourite moment from Tour de France history?
When I was growing up I remember watching Miguel Indurain win the Tour and then of course Jan Ullrich also winning , which was fantastic and a great memory. But I have watched the Tour many times when I was younger, but nothing compares to riding the Champs Elysees with the yellow jersey in your team knowing you have won the Tour de France.