Kittel expects echelon threat at Scheldeprijs
German returns to face Demare and Groenewegen on new exposed route
Despite being the overwhelming favourite to win his sixth Scheldeprijs title on Wednesday, Marcel Kittel is aware that echelons could be the biggest obstacle standing in his way.
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A vastly modified course sees the race start in the Netherlands with 130km of the 200km parcours run through the country before heading into Belgium. The roads through Zeeland will be of particular importance with North Sea winds holding the potential of splitting the field on the often exposed roads.
"For sure there's going to be a moment when we have echelons. You almost can't avoid it. We need to stay together as a team and see how good we can sit in the front group with as many riders as possible."
Kittel, 29, has not raced since Milan-San Remo but has a powerful Katusha-Alpecin team backing him. The team's main engine will centre around Tony Martin, while Rick Zabel and Marco Haller will be charged with leading Kittel out in the bunch sprint.
Before reaching that point, Kittel and his teammates must overcome the possibility of echelons and control their rivals. Quick-Step Floors, who have been so dominant this spring, will race with an experienced team. Elia Viviani is absent as he rests up and prepares for the Giro d'Italia with Alvaro Hodeg and Fabio Jakobsen given a chance to shine. Quick-Step Floors will be expected to try and split the race, if the wind picks up.
Kittel, however, realises that his team must be on their guard.
"They're all motivated and ready for the echelons. The most important thing is that you're ready and that you're pay attention to the course. We'll start the race and then see what happens. The goal is to be sprinting at the finish," he said.
The depth of sprinter at the race is not particularly high but Kittel will face-off against Dylan Groenewegen (LottNL Jumbo), Phil Bauhaus (Team Sunweb) and Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ).
"What can I say, it is what it is. There's still other sprinters, and maybe it will be a sprint from a smaller group but I'd very surprised if it was a sprint from a completely exploded group at the end as we still have nearly 60km on the finish circuit."
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