Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) proved yet again that Scheldeprijs is his race and made history with a fifth victory at the event on Wednesday. While Kittel was the rider on the top of the rostrum, the day was all about his teammate Tom Boonen, who is due to retire this weekend.
Scheldeprijs was Kittel's final race with Boonen as teammates, and he was happy to send the retiring rider off with a parting gift. The race was also Boonen's last professional outing in his native Belgium and began in his hometown of Mol. While the race celebrated Boonen, his eyes are on Paris-Roubaix this weekend, his last big hurrah. With so much at stake this week, Kittel accepted that Boonen may want to take it easy to avoid any incidents. However, he was nicely surprised to see that his teammate was up for it, and even helped set him up for the sprint finish.
"I was a bit surprised when we did the meeting this morning he said that he wanted to attack at 500 metres, but that didn't happen because I said that I would stay in his wheel," Kittel joked with the press in his winner's press conference.
"I think it shows how professional he is, and how concentrated and motivated he is," Kittel continued. "I asked him what his idea was for the race. I could understand if he said that it was all for Roubaix and if he just wanted to train here and take himself out of the final to be sure that he wasn't in a crash. But he went all in for it, and he sacrificed himself for the team for the result, and that is the attitude of a big athlete."
Kittel has been teammates with Boonen since moving to Quick-Step last season, the pair has worked together on a number of occasions, and the German praised the professionalism of his elder teammate.
"I just have to admit that I never really realised what it meant to be in a team with Tom Boonen until I was and until I saw here what was going on around him. It's incredible really," he said. "What always stood out for me was his working attitude. He's a very inspiring athlete especially when we trained at training camps in winter. He's a very focused athlete, he knows where he has to be good, he knows himself really well, and I think that's something that makes a difference between a very good and a great rider. He definitely is a role model for everybody in our team with that attitude."
Riding a wave of success
Kittel's Scheldeprijs victory is the 10th for the Quick-Step Floors in March alone and the sixth of the spring Classics. The team appears to be riding a wave at the moment, and Kittel hopes that they will be able to close out the Classics on a high. "The morale is really high, everybody is happy and relaxed and that's the perfect mix for a successful team," said Kittel.
"I think that it's great that we can keep it going and stay relaxed. I think that's maybe because of the good performances from the team in the Classics already with Yves Lampaert in Dwars door Vlaanderen and Philippe Gilbert in Vlaanderen. Everyone is concentrated and focussed now to finish it in a good way; here in Scheldeprijs but also in Roubaix."
Kittel will not be in action at Paris-Roubaix this weekend and said that it's unlikely he'll be trying his luck at the monument again anytime soon, although he did hint that hit that it could happen a little further down the line. The race will be Boonen's last hurrah, and Kittel is confident that he can go out with a bang.
"I think from what I've seen from him, and when I observe him a little bit, he has all the chances in the world to go for victory. He is super strong, and for me, there is not much doubt that he will have a great result on Sunday," he said. "When I rode Roubaix in 2011, I really enjoyed it. I finished the race, but out of time. I was one of the last guys to finish in the velodrome. For the future, that is something that I would like to do it again."
Following his victory, Kittel confirmed that he would be heading Stateside for the Tour of California next month instead of the Giro d'Italia. Kittel last rode the race some five years ago, during his second season as a professional. It was a tricky race for the German, and he's hoping for better success this time around.
"I'm happy to go back there. I did California once before in 2012, not with a happy end because I had to leave the race because of an inflammation on my knee," said Kittel. "I'm looking forward to it. It's a very nice race, it's well organised and it's a nice atmosphere. It's good to be back."