For the second day in a row, Marcel Kittel (Team Argos-Shimano) struggled at the Three Days of de Panne and with Scheldeprijs just a week away, the German sprinter is in a race against time to regain his form.
Kittel came down with the flu after Paris-Nice and was forced to spend eight days off the bike. His comeback in de Panne - a race in which he won a stage before winning Scheldeprijs last year - has seen him finish behind the leaders in the first two stages.
"I'm totally fucked. I only got on the bike after Paris-Nice last Monday so I went eight days without the bike. I was only able to do an hour each day and in the end I only had three days of normal training. It's just not been enough," he told Cyclingnews at the finish in Koksijde. He finished the second stage, over nine minutes down on the winner Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep) who is one of the favourites for Scheldeprijs next week.
"The virus really took it out of me and I was advised not to train because it's dangerous if you get back into things and the virus is still there. It's a real pity," Kittel said.
"These are really hard races, with the wind, and the climbs yesterday. The other guys, they're really in shape and that just means that it's really hard to hang on."
On the positive side Kittle is making the most of De Panne and gaining valuable miles ahead of next week's objective.
"For me it's only about getting kilometres in my legs. I really need them. It's amazing how much shape you can lose in eight days."
Asked what his chances were of a title defence in Scheldeprijs, he said, "I have to see but I don't see myself as a favourite there. I'll hope for good legs and see what I can do but at the moment there's no pressure for this race. Maybe I just need some luck."