Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) took his first European victory of the season by a country mile at Scheldeprijs. The German opened up the jets with around 300 metres to go and left the rest to fight for the runner-up spot.
It is Kittel’s fifth victory of the year, but his first since the Dubai Tour just over two months ago. The lack of victories in the intervening months had obviously been weighing down on him and Kittel was relieved to finally get the ball rolling once again.
"It’s actually some time since I won a race and for me it is a very important win. Not only so that I could defend the title for the third time, but in general to win a race. After De Panne and Tirreno, I was very disappointed, because I had really good legs but I couldn’t manage to win a race. That gave me a lot of motivation to give everything and do my best today," he said in the post-race press conference. "I’m feeling very good, not just the legs but with the whole team now. I could simply start my sprint from a very good position and use my legs to sprint as hard as I could."
It was a fairly straightforward day for Kittel and his Giant-Shimano team. A five-man break got away early on, allowing for the sprinters teams to settle into a good rhythm for the day. After a lot of crashes in the past two weeks, and with the race’s reputation as a crash fest, the peloton were relieved to come through unscathed.
Many were hoping that Scheldeprijs would be a chance to see Kittel face off against Mark Cavendish, but the Manxman had to pull out of the race with an illness that has plagued him since riding Milan-San Remo. Cavendish’s departure made the German the outright favourite, but Kittel is confident that he could have taken the Manx Missile in another sprint finish.
"I always have the expectation for myself, to be in the race and to win and it’s not that I’m afraid of anyone. We as a team and my team don’t have to be afraid of anyone," he says. "It’s always nice if you have the best guys around you, which doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a good rider today. I think it’s good to have all the best guys together."
This is Kittel’s third straight victory at Scheldeprijs, making him the only rider to win three consecutive editions. Only Cavendish and Piet Oeillibrandt can match the German in terms of number of victories. It is one of the rare opportunities in the cobbled season for the sprinters to test their mettle and, for Kittel, there was no doubt about making the trip to Belgium for the one-day race.
"A lot of people call it the unofficial sprint world championships, maybe just without the jersey," he explains. "It’s a very important race for a sprinter, because all the good sprinters have won here before. I think the reputation of the race is very big and you can profile yourself as a team and a rider if you show yourself here."
Kittel will now return home for a short break before he rider the Tour de Romandie and makes his debut in the Giro d’Italia in May.