Nobody was able to match the power and speed of German sprinter Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) at the one-day classic Scheldeprijs in Schoten, near Antwerp, Belgium. With a third place at a respectable distance of Kittel young Dutchman Danny van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) was more than happy.
"This is really nice. I'm very happy," Van Poppel said while gasping for air, shortly after crossing the line in Schoten.
Before the race Van Poppel told Cyclingnews that he hoped for a top five result, while expecting to ride his own race amongst the men from the Classics team who were training for next Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. When asked if he would be receiving support from Vlaanderen winner Fabian Cancellara, Van Poppel said he was not counting on it. "Fabian is here to prepare Paris-Roubaix," he said.
"Well, he did it, and I didn't have to ask for it," Van Poppel told Cyclingnews right after the race. "Fabian did great work and I thought that was really cool. And that while he's actually here to train. The whole team helped me perfectly, they were super."
When starting the sprint Van Poppel was on the wheel of Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), who was on Kittel's wheel. Kittel blasted past Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) and grabbed his third win. Behind the German there were at least two bike lengths and a close battle between Farrar and Van Poppel for second place.
"It was great that I was well positioned, a bit distant though. I saw Kittel launch his sprint and when I kicked off I knew it wasn't for the victory. I came close on Farrar but Kittel was on a league of his own, like so many times. I aimed for top five, and finish third so that's more than an accomplished mission. That's for sure."
"I received a free role today. There wasn't a lot of pressure and then things often work out well for me."
Last year Van Poppel didn't manage to get a win under his belt. He came close on many occasions, finishing third in the tumultuous opening stage of the Tour de France from Porto Vecchio to Bastia on the island of Corsica. There too, the winner was Marcel Kittel. Then Van Popple came second in the prologue of the Luxembourg Tour behind Jimmy Engoulvent. This year Van Poppel finally got that pro win and the confidence that comes along with that. Last month he won the first stage of the 3-days of West-Flanders.
"A win and now a third place in a very big race, that's great," Van Poppel said. "It was the first time I came here as the dedicated sprinter. I feel good in the team. I get my chance to sprint whereas last year I had to prove myself more."
Van Poppel will not be able to pay Cancellara back by riding in his support in Paris-Roubaix as he's not part of the selection there. Next week he's back for the Brabantse Pijl. Later this season he's scheduled for the Tour of California in May.
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