Marcel Kittel made further strides up the sprinting pecking order with a fine win to claim the 2012 Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. The race is typically decided by the best sprinters in the world and although world champion Mark Cavendish was absent, Kittel (Argos-Shimano) still had to contend with Andre Greipel and Tyler Farrar. While the Lotto rider has been off form in recent weeks and Farrar has yet to win this year, the race was a hotly contested affair and an opportunity for the pure sprinters to test themselves during the cobbled season.
"My team worked a lot and tried to bring me into position and I had the chance to sprint and I think that's very important here because it's very difficult and hectic to stay in front in the rain and I'm really proud to win this race," Kittel said at the finish.
"First I was on the wheel of Rabobank together with Farrar. Then with 300 meters to go Farrar went to the right and I was on his wheel and followed him. We both had a free way to the front."
Scheldeprijs is a race that has been won by Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish in the past, and Kittel was well aware of its importance on his ever-growing palmares.
"I think it's a very important race especially for sprinters. They said to me that it's the unofficial world championships for sprinters so if you look there are a lot of big names and its makes me very proud."
Kittel's upward trajectory in sprinting means that certain questions are never far away. Comparisons with Cavendish come as quickly as his pedal revolutions in sprints and with Greipel without a win in several weeks, Kittel has been asked whether there's a rivalry between him and the Lotto leader. But Kittel has taken it all in his stride, neither arrogant or petulant, he has carried himself well.
At the finish in Scheldeprijs he deflected questions surrounding who the best sprinter in the world is by asserting that ambitions were subservient to his own targets and no one else.
"I had a good year in 2011 and this year I have also big goals and so far everything has worked out," he said.
"My plan is to set a few goals for each year that I want to reach but I don't think about a peak in my career. I take it step by step. In general the whole team is very motivated. If I look to the last races that we did like Milan-San Remo the whole team was very strong and there's a big team spirit. Everyone is working hard and I think that's our big advantage still."
But although Cavendish was absent , Kittel knew that the world champion is the standard for modern day sprinting - his rainbow stripes and Tour stage victories constant reminders how far Greipel and co are presently behind him.
"I'm waiting to have a direct sprint against him. This year we've not had that opportunity but I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. I want to test myself against him. Then we'll see what's possible."
Such a sprint can't come soon enough.