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SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) — Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) held up a diamond inset into the letter “A” on Wednesday, a prize for winning Scheldeprijs, a smile upon the big German’s face.
The only problem is that it was supposed to go to Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who requested the prize be brought back by the city of Antwerp: Belgian Tom Boonen had earned a diamond before by winning Scheldeprijs, and Cav wanted one too.
But on this cold and windy day in Belgium, it was Kittel who took home the rock — for the second year in a row. Kittel won this year’s edition of the semi-classic in strongman fashion, besting Cavendish in a long, straight sprint into a headwind.
“I never got such a present,” he told reporters. “Since I’m single again … it’s probably for my living room.”
The win is confirmation for the sprinter that he’s back on track after a rough spring campaign that saw him miss training time because of an illness. Last week, Kittel was shy about defending his title in Schoten, but he was plenty strong in holding off Cavendish. It marked the first time the German has beaten the prolific Cavendish in a straight sprint.
“I was really lucky, I thought I was boxed in and couldn’t come to the front with 700 meters,” Kittel said. “Tom Veelers came on the left side and he was shouting, ‘Marcel, come to me!’ And then I was riding through the peloton to the left to get his wheel, then he brought me to the front to do a leadout.
“I thought, ‘OK, you just have to start somewhere.’ And I started pretty early. To be honest, I expected someone to pass me. I gave it everything.”
No one came around him, and he won the title he’d hoped to defend.
“If you just look to the result — to beat Mark Cavendish — that’s a very nice experience for me as a sprinter,” Kittel said. “So when I look back to the last weeks, I was sick. Yeah, it was 50/50 if I could have been successful here.
“The team helped me a lot today. They kept me out of the wind and I could save my energy, and then I could go for it. It’s a very nice day for me.”
Kittel now has three wins this season — stage victories at the Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice round out his 2013 thus far. “I think it was a very important victory for my health,” he said. “Just to finish the first part of the season with a win … now I can go on relaxed and start training for the next races, do the next races and just see what comes.”
Kittel hopes to improve on last year’s Tour de France, in which he suffered from a stomach illness. “It was a shit start, literally. I’m looking forward this year to do it better,” he said. “That’s where I want to be. I want to develop as a sprinter. I want to get the big wins. It’s good now to have this one in the pocket.”
Kittel is unsure of his race program beyond the Tour of Turkey in late April. He will attend a high-altitude training camp prior to the Tour de France.