What was supposed to become a glorious day ended up an exercise in frustration for Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) at the 101st edition of the Scheldeprijs. The Manx Express fell just short of grabbing a record-breaking fourth win at the finish in Schoten and the winner's diamond, finishing a close runner-up to back-to-back champion Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano). Cavendish lacked the lead-out which Kittel had in the final kilometres. Being too far back in the peloton, Cavendish was unable to overtake the German sprinter who was perfectly launched, that in spite of undoubtedly riding the fastest sprint in Schoten.
After crossing the line, a clearly disappointed Cavendish searched for his fiancée Peta Todd and daughter Delilah Grace. After receiving a big hug Cavendish headed for the podium where the top-three of the day would be honoured. Before and after that ceremony Cavendish expressed his disappointment to the press.
"I came from 20 [positions] back with 200 [metres] to go. That's it. It's too far back," Cavendish told Sporza in an assessment of his sprint to the finish. When pressed on whether he lacked support in the finale, Cavendish said, "I guess so, in the final, yeah. The consequences of today's sprint? I don't know. We rode so well. The whole day we ride so well until the last two kilometres. I don't know."
When asked another question to find out what went wrong a frustrated Cavendish replied, "Can we talk about something else please, is that ok? I don't know what went wrong. I didn't win the bike race."
After returning from the podium, Cavendish acknowledged the work his team had done leading into the hectic closing kilometres. "The guys were brilliant the whole day but once again I was left alone in the final. On another day it could've worked out but today it didn't. I was coming, coming, coming... I went to go with maybe 250 to go but [Romain] Feillu was just coming around so actually it was 50 metres more to start. I just ran out of time. Was I too far? I'll have to look at the video to judge on that. It can happen that if you come from the top-five that you come from too far."
Cavendish praised the now two-time Scheldeprijs winner Marcel Kittel. "It's Marcel Kittel who won so it's not like it's not one of the best guys in the world. So I can't be too disappointed about that."
Five hours earlier it seemed like there was no way Cavendish would be beaten in the Scheldeprijs. Coming into the this year's edition it was clear Cavendish had set his mind on grabbing a record fourth win in Schoten, on the outskirts of Antwerp. Back in 2007 a then 21-year-old and unknown Mark Cavendish, riding for T-Mobile, beat the best sprinters in the world in Schoten for his breakthrough win as a professional.
Every time Cavendish has returned he's triumphed, first in 2008 and later in 2011. "I rode it three times, won it three times. I like it here. Antwerp is a beautiful city and I'm excited to try and get the win today," Cavendish had said.
The Scheldeprijs race organizers tried hard to get Cavendish back at the start of their race and promised the winner a diamond, the export product of Antwerp. Still, Cavendish had to win the race. "I'm going to try and win. It's a special day. It's the birthday of my daughter and it would be a nice present for her," Cavendish said prior to the start.
Coming into the race Cavendish was level with Petrus Oellibrandt, a Belgian rider who racked up his three wins in the early 1960s. "I know him. I met him last year. Breaking the record would be nice but we can't bank on it. There's a lot of strong teams here and a lot of strong sprinters," Cavendish said.
Last year, Marcel Kittel won the Scheldeprijs bunch sprint in Schoten but he wasn't showing great form so far this year. Arch rival André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) opted to skip the Scheldeprijs in order to be fresh for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. It all played in Cavendish's favour but he didn't want to claim the win before the race was ridden.
"It's always a special race here. We've got a strong team here. It would be nice to win it four times but it's not an easy race. It's the oldest race in Belgium. Everybody wants to win here. It's quite windy today. I'd like a smaller sprint because last year there were crashes," Cavendish said.
Before the race Cavendish acknowledged that without Tom Boonen, who's recovering from a crash sustained during last Sunday's Tour of Flanders, the team wasn't quite as strong as with the Belgian champion. "Having him here would be a very big advantage. We've got a very strong team here. All the guys are going really win but I miss Tom here for sure," Cavendish said.