Marcel Kittel zipped over the line today in Schoten, Belgium, for a record third consecutive win in the Scheldeprijs one-day classic. It appeared easy for the German given he shot clear by three bike lengths ahead of 2010 winner, Tyler Farrar.
"Yeah, maybe it was because there was a lot of tail-wind!" said Kittel in his white and black team Giant kit. "I feel good. It's not just my legs but my team. I started the sprint from a good position and used my good legs to sprint as hard as possible."
Giant-Shimano and Omega Pharma led the group into the final kilometres for the sprint. Omega normally would work for Mark Cavendish, a three time winner in the Antwerp suburb, but its sprinter stayed at home to recover from a recent fever and stomach problems.
American Farrar in Garmin's blue colours followed Kittel's rear wheel when the sprint started properly but quickly lost ground. It appeared his best possible finish was a second place ahead of Danny Van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing).
"It wasn't exactly a photo finish and I have to happy with second place. There was no touching him," Farrar said immediately after the race. "He's been the top sprinter in the world for the last year or year and a half, no question. He's certainly the man to beat. He's still human, but very hard to beat."
Kittel called the mid-week Belgian classic, which this year celebrates 102 editions, the sprinters' world championship. However, some rivals had to stay at home. Besides Cavendish, André Greipel sat out with a broken collarbone.
"It's nice if you have the best guys around you when you win, which doesn't mean there wasn't a good rider today," Kittel explained. "But it would've been better to have all the best guys together."
Cavendish won in 2007, 2008 and 2011. He matched Belgian Piet Oellibrandt's record three wins from 1960, 1962 and 1963. Kittel joined their small club today but became the first rider to do so in three consecutive years: 2012, 2013 and 2014. But it almost didn't happen.
Sky's Luke Rowe attacked clear with five others five kilometres into the 200-kilometre race. They gained up to 5-10 minutes and held one minute with 10 kilometres remaining. In one last attempt, at three kilometres away, Rowe tried to break free of his companions and hold off the sprint trains.
"It was a suicide move to start off with, 100 per cent, because this is a sprinters' race and it's rare a breakaway stays clear," Rowe said on the finishing straight after the race. "If it wasn't because the guys started messing around with attacks, I think we could have made it all the way. It's a shame."
Rowe rolled over the line safely ahead of a group with Brad Wiggins and Geraint Thomas. It was their last official outing before they race Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
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