GENT, Belgium (VN) — Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) will be the favorite to win a third consecutive Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, but he won’t be facing off against three-time winner Mark Cavendish.
The Omega Pharma-Quick Step star sprinter is suffering from stomach problems that also kept him out of Gent-Wevelgem, and he likely won’t race again until the Tour of Turkey later this month.
Last year, Kittel kicked past Cavendish to win for the second year running. The German ace will be under the gun to win on European roads for the first time this season. So far, he’s won three stages at the Dubai Tour and a criterium in Australia, but has yet to win in Europe.
“I always prefer that the best riders are at the start line,” Kittel told journalists at Driedaagse De Panne (Three Days of De Panne). “I hope to win Scheldeprijs again, but it’s never easy.”
Also missing Scheldeprijs will be André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who underwent surgery after crashing near the finish at Gent-Wevelgem.
Leading Lotto-Belisol will be Kenny Dehaes, who crashed on the final corner of the first stage at De Panne.
“I hope for the podium and dream about the victory, it would be wonderful for me and the team. I’m better now compared to this period last year,” Dehaes said in a press release.
“Because the Scheldeprijs is in between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, a lot of riders will start just to spend some more kilometers on the bike. Normally this race is one for the sprinters, but if there’s a lot of wind echelons could be formed,” he continued. “It’s not fun to say but there is often a crash a few hundreds of meters before the finish line. Let’s hope that will not be the case this year, for me and for other riders.”
Cavendish, meanwhile, is expected to race at the Amgen Tour of California in May, and skip the Giro d’Italia in order to be fresh for the Tour de France in July.
Although the race favors the sprinters, many of the Paris-Roubaix favorites race Scheldeprijs to tune up their form ahead of Sunday’s big showdown on the cobbles.
Omega Pharma will line up with two-time winner Tom Boonen and 2009 champion Alessandro Petacchi.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will be looking to erase the disappointment of Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) with a strong ride. Sagan won E3 Harelbeke and was third at Gent-Wevelgem, but struggled late in Flanders to miss the winning moves.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), who won in 2010 and lost in a photo finish to Kittel in 2012, will be looking for a strong performance after hitting the deck late in Gent-Wevelgem.
Belkin will bring sprinters Theo Bos and Moreno Hofland, the young Dutch prospect who’s already won three times this season and was second to Boonen at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Sep Vanmarcke, third in Sunday’s Flanders, and Lars Boom will also race in preparation for this weekend’s Paris-Roubaix.
“I placed third in 2012, and I hope to improve this year,” Bos said in a team release. “I’m happy with my form. I am looking forward to racing again.”
Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr), second at Gent-Wevelgem, Andrea Guardini (Astana), Milano-Sanremo champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), and Flanders runner-up Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) are other favorites.
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Bradley Wiggins are both lining up for Sky. Trek Factory Racing officials confirmed that Flanders winner Fabian Cancellara will start.
Scheldeprijs typically ends in a mass gallop, though that’s not always the case. Breakaways are inevitable, and with strong wind and possible rain in the forecast, the sprinters’ teams will need to cooperate to set up their fast men.
The race dates back to 1907 and is the oldest bike race in Flanders. Starting in Antwerp, the 200km course loops north and east over the flats near the border with the Netherlands before swinging back onto a finishing circuit around Schoten.