Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) was understandably frustrated after losing out to Elia Viviani (Team Sky) on the second stage of the Three Days of De Panne but found some humour in defeat. Kittel took up the sprint as the barriers began with 250 metres to go and led most of the way only to see Viviani slip past him in the final metres in Oostduinkerke.
“Maybe what can help us is that Peter Sagan got a million second places so maybe it is not the end of the world,” he joked at the finish. “I can tell you I’m really disappointed but it’s not a pity to lose against Viviani. The team worked really hard to make it a sprint and did a great lead out, and then I had to start my sprint early or otherwise I might not have been on the podium and that was a risk. Viviani got a great lead out from my team and also from me. That’s basically it but I think the team is really strong, I’m really strong and I try to see it positively.”
Kittel’s time with the Etixx-QuickStep team started with a bang as he took overall victory at the Dubai Tour and two stages of the Volta ao Algarve. After such a strong season opener, he was one of the big favourites for Paris-Nice’s sprint stages but he walked away with nothing to show for his efforts.
While many of the big-name sprinters aren’t present in De Panne, there is still a strong contingent of fast men and the second place is a sign that things are moving in the right direction with his bigger goals still down the road. He denied, however, that he needed a win to gain back the confidence he had at the beginning of the year.
“The self-confidence is there otherwise I wouldn’t have started my sprint so early. I saw in the video just now, when I started my sprint all the other guys immediately had a gap so I think I can be confident. I want to win. I’m not here to be second but that is the way it is,” said Kittel. “For me, until now the focus was not on this first part of the season. Now Scheldeprijs and the Giro d’Italia is where I’m aiming and I feel that I’m on a very good way.”
It has been a frustrating Classics campaign for the Etixx-QuickStep team with nothing to show despite arguably one of the strongest teams around. Team manager Patrick Lefevere was present at the finish and was pleased with what he saw from his riders. The Etixx-QuickStep train appears to have gelled together pretty quickly, despite some setbacks earlier in the year.
“They did a perfect lead out. They kept Marcel in the front, and I think that until four kilometres to go there was no other team that was able to compete with us,” Lefevere told Cyclingnews. “He was really disappointed because the team did a really good lead out for him but sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
“They are progressing, but let’s not forget that [Max] Richeze broke his hip in Argentina and it’s only his second race. I think that they are doing well.”