Marcel Kittel kept his cool – and his balance – to win the 100th edition of the sprinters’ semi-Classic Scheldeprijs. The 23-year old German turned on the power in the final 150 metres to edge out Tyler Farrar and Theo Bos in a treacherous finish which saw a number of crashes. The win was Kittel’s fifth of the season, but the first for the newly unveiled Argos-Shimano team (formerly known as Project 1t4i).
Often overlooked due to its midweek slot between the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, the Scheldeprijs is a rare opportunity for the pure sprinters to hold sway over the hard-men of the peloton during Classics season. As such, the start-list is something of a who’s-who of sprinting, boasting former winners Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), as well as top names such as Kittel, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Mark Renshaw and Theo Bos (Rabobank), Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Serre Italia), winner of six stages of this year’s Tour de Langkawi.
Defending champion and three-time winner Mark Cavendish (Sky) was not present to pursue a record fourth victory, opting to stay in the UK for the birth of his first child, who duly arrived last night:
Delilah Grace Cavendish was born a couple of hours ago. She & @petatodd are doing very well. So proud of my girls! Happiest day of my life.
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) April 3, 2012
[Congratulations to Mark, Peta and Delilah Grace from the entire VeloVoices team – Ed.]
Starting in the marketplace in Antwerp and finishing in nearby Schoten after completing a clockwise loop of 202km, the race is run over a pan-flat course – albeit one with seven cobbled sections and a twisty, technical finish – which traditionally results in a chaotic bunch sprint.
Five riders – three of them Kevins! – initiated the day’s main breakaway: Kevin Van Melsen (Accent.jobs-Willems Veranda’s), Kevin Hulsmans (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), Kevin Claeys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), David Boucher (FDJ-Big Mat) and Simon Lambert-Lemay (Spidertech-C10). They were joined by Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Kin San Wu (Champion System) to form a seven-man group which led by 8:15 after just 38km.
With long, flat roads ahead of them, the peloton were in no hurry to reel them in, and with Garmin-Barracuda and Lotto-Belisol happy to sit on the front and control the deficit, the gap hovered between 4½ and six minutes for a long stretch. Indeed, not until around 53km to go did Tom Boonen – who had stated beforehand that he would only be using the race as a tune-up for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix – suddenly come forward over one of the cobbled sections. He stretched both his legs and those of the pack, whose shape changed from a compact bunch to a long line as the Ronde van Vlaanderen champion put in a decent workout to animate an otherwise featureless middle portion of the race.
By the time the peloton started the second of two finishing circuits around Schoten with 33km to go, they trailed the breakaway by just 1:40 – effectively sounding the death knell for the escapees. Straight after the finish line, a crash brought down several riders and initiated a split, with a front group of about 60 driven on by Boonen. Their increased pace rapidly hauled in the leaders, with Hulsman the last to succumb just past the 10km banner.
Two more crashes at 7km and 3km to go on the now treacherously wet roads whittled down the lead group further, so that only about 25 riders remained as they passed the 1km flag with Sky leading the way and Garmin and Argos-Shimano in close attendance. But Sky faded, leaving Rabobank to initiate the final lead-out for Bos. Farrar accelerated smoothly past, only for Kittel to kick hard in the final 125m to beat him to the line by a wheel, with Bos a similar distance behind in third.
The action wasn’t restricted to the finish, however. As two of the leading group slowed up after the line, they simultaneously slid off, resulting in a press photographer suffering a reported broken jawbone. Ouch.
After the race, Kittel confessed the heavy rain had made the finish difficult:
It was tough with the rain. [But] for every sprinter, it is important to win this race.
Runner-up Farrar agreed about the dangerous conditions:
It was crazy. I was scared for the last five kilometres.
Nonetheless this victory represents a significant notch on the bed-post for both Kittel and Argos-Shimano. They are likely to receive a wild-card for this year’s Tour de France, and this result proved they will be contenders for sprint wins in July.
1. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) 4:30:53
2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) same time
3. Theo Bos (Rabobank) s/t
4. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
5. Manuel Belletti (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t
6. Elia Favilli (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) s/t
7. Alexander Porsev (Katusha) s/t
8. Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) s/t
9. Giacomo Nizzolo (Radioshack-Nissan) s/t
10. Guillaume Boivin (Spidertech-C10) s/t
Link: Official website