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After a perfect lead-out, Kittel became the first rider to win Scheldeprijs four times by beating Cavendish in a photo finish; Greipel completed the formidable podium

Photo: Etixx - Quick-Step / Tim de Waele










06.04.2016 @ 17:52 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) made history by becoming the first rider to win the oldest Flemish classic, Scheldeprijs, four times in a fantastic sprint battle between all the fastest riders. Having been delivered perfectly by Fabio Sabatini, he narrowly held off Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) in a photo finish while André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) had to settle for third.


In 2012, Marcel Kittel warned his rivals that he was about to take over the sprinting crown when he claimed his first win in the race that is known as the World Championships for the sprinters, Scheldeprijs. Since then he went on to win the race in both 2013 and 2014, clearly proving his status as the fastest rider in the world.


Last year he lost his crown as he had to skip the race in a disastrous spring season that barely allowed him to finish a single race. This year he has been back at his best level, already claiming numerous wins for his new Etixx-QuickStep team, but he has done nothing to hide that the race that would really mark his comeback was Scheldeprijs which was his first big goal of the year.


Kittel were in a determined mood for today’s 104th edition of the oldest Flemish classic and he had the full backing of the Etixx-QuickStep team which had gathered their full lead-out train for the first time this year. Their star rider didn’t disappoint as he won a fantastic sprint in a photo finish where he narrowly held off Mark Cavendish, with André Greipel making it a dream podium in the star-studded line-up.


Wet conditions had made the race more selective than usual and meant that it was a relatively small group that started the final lap of the 16.8km finishing circuit. The nervousness had spelled an early end for all break and it was Lotto Soudal that had taken control.


Lars Bak set the pace in the early part of the lap while Trek, Dimension Data and Etixx-QuickStep gathered behind them. However, it was Sky that took control with 13km to go when Christian Knees hit the front.


Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Bak and Knees fought hard for the front positions as they approached the key Broeckstraat pave and it was the Swiss who won the battle. He set the pace until Andrew Fenn hit the front a few kilometres from the Broeckstraat.


It was a big fight for position as they approached the cobbles and again Etixx-QuickStep won the battle, with Lukasz Wisniowski setting the pace on the rough surface. Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg took over for Dimension Data and he led the group back to the tarmac while lots of riders lost contact.


It was a big fight for position in the finale, with Bora-Argon 18, Etixx-QuickStep and Southeast all working hard on the front but it was a bit of a waiting game until Cofidis hit the front with Borut Bozic. His teammate Florian Senechal led the peloton under the 3km to go banner but he had lost his sprinter Michael van Staeyen in the chaos.


Sean De Bie took a short turn for Lotto Soudal but as they passed the 2km to go banner, the Etixx-QuickStep train kicked into action with Matteo Trentin. He allowed Tom Van Asbroeck to take a turn for LottoNL-Jumbo until Maximilano Richeze, Fabio Sabatini and Kittel hit the front.


The Etixx trio took the turn under the flamme rouge while Cavendish and Robert Wagner had slotted into fourth and fifth, followed by Marcel Sieberg and Greipel. Sabatini launched the lead-out and put Kittel in the perfect position to start his sprint.


Cavendish, Kittel and Greipel started to sprint and while Greipel was never in contention, Cavendish moved up on the right-hand side of Kittel. No one dared to celebrate as they crossed the line but the photo finish clearly showed that Kittel had made history. Greipel held the Trek pair of Edward Theuns and Niccolo Bonifazio off to make it two Germans on the podium.


With Scheldeprijs done and dusted, the Flemish classics season is over and the final big cobbled race is Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. The next major event in Belgium is Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl which signals the start of the hillier one-day races.


A flat course

The 104th edition of Scheldeprijs was held on a 207.8km courset hat brought the riders from Antwerpen to nearby city of Schoten. As usual, it was a completely flat race and it was the seven pave sectors that were the main challenges. After doing a big loop in the flat terrain, the riders ended the race by doing three laps of a 16.8km finishing circuit that included the famous Broeckstraat pave inside the final 10km. A new finale meant that the riders had to tackle two turns inside the final kilometre.


Laurens De Vreese (Astana) was the only non-starter when the peloton gathered under a cloudy sky and it was a 162-rider group that tackled the 10km neutral section. A strong tailwind and lots of attacks created a very fast start and as the riders travelled at more than 60km/h, it was impossible for anyone to get clear.


Six riders get clear

The elastic snapped after 5km of racing when Nico Denz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Tomasz Kyendis (CCC-Sprandi), Steven Tronet (Fortuneo Vital Concept), Berden De Vries (Roompot Oranje) and Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen) got clear. After a short chase, the peloton slowed down and the gap went out to 30 seconds at the 8km mark.


However, some teams had missed the break and they refused to give up. They started to chase again and when the gap was down to 20 seconds, Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale), Maxime Cam (Fortuneo Vital Concept) and Enrique Sanz (Southeast) tried to bridge across. They never got an advantage and they were soon back in the fold.


Baugnies tries to bridge the gap

At this point, the gap was 23 seconds but now the peloton finally decided that it was time for a natural break. When the gap had gone out to a minute, Jerome Baugnies (Wanty) took on the seemingly impossible task of trying to bridge the gap. He never got any closer though and after 30km of racing, he sat up again.


At this point, the gap had gone out to 4 minutes but that was as much as the break would get. The peloton upped the pace and kept it between 3 and 4 minutes until the end of the first hour during which they had covered 45.8km.


A slow pace

A short lull in the peloton allowed the gap to go out to 4.45 before the sprint teams started to chase again. After 67km, they had again reduced the gap to 3.25 and while Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) dropped back to his team car, they again kept it between the 3- and 4-minute marks.


The second hour was pretty slow as the riders had now turned into a headwind and they only covered 36.4km during those 60 minutes. Meanwhile, rain started to fall.


A big sprint alliance

Tinkoff upped the pace slightly and reduced the gap to 2.50 when they entered the final 115km. It was down to just 2.25 when they reached the feed zone before it went back out to 3.28.


As the peloton entered the final 100km, they upped the pace significantly and in a matter of just a few kilometres, they brought it down to 1.45. It was a big alliance between the sprint teams that made the difference, with Michael Gogl, Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff), Luke Rowe (Sky), Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal), Jay Thomson (Dimension Data) and Viaheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha) setting the pace in the peloton.


Cancellara enjoys himself

The gap was down to 1.30 with 85km to go and the peloton evidently had to hold something back as the mind games with the breakaway continued.  That allowed Fabian Cancellara to enjoy his last Flemish classic, riding near the front of the peloton and waving to the spectators.


With 75km to go, Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale) and Steven Lammertink (LottoNL-Jumbo) also took a few turns on the front, meaning that almost all the big sprint teams were contributing. Nonetheless, the gap had gone out to 2.15 at this point.


Broeckstraat does some damage

The early workers all yo-yoed a bit on the front of the peloton, mixing a few pulls with a bit of recovery. That was reflected in the gap which was again down to 1.30 with 70km to go and it had dropped to a minute just 5km later.


With 60km to go, the riders hit the Broeckstraat pave for the first time and this meant that the fight for position intensified. Etixx-Quickstp came to the fore and it was Kuznetsov and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Etixx-QuickStep) who set the pace on the cobbles just 30 seconds behind the leaders.


The break is caught

Kuznetsov clearly upped the pace, trying to make things a bit harder for the pure sprinters, while the rest of his teammates gathered behind him. As they returned to the tarmac, they tried to split things in the crosswinds with Jacopo Guarnieri and Marco Haller and a big group lost contact.


Katusha stopped their effort and this allowed a regrouping to take place. However, the atmosphere was now extremely nervous and as the gap had been reduced to just 10 seconds, the breakaway sat up and it was all back together with 55km to go.


New attacks

The attacking started immediately, with Helven, Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r9 and a Roompot rider all being active, but Lammertink did a good job to control things for LottoNL-Jumbo. Thomson led the group under the flamme rouge for the first time before Frederik Backaert (Wanty) attacked when the finish was in sight.


Backaert crossed the line with a 10-second advantage over the peloton from which Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) bridged across. Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Turgot too off in pursuit and Enrique Sanz (Southeast) also attacked.


Etixx-QuickStep take control

With 45km to go, the front duo were 15 seconds ahead of the two chasers while the peloton was at 30 seconds, with Sanz was stuck in between. The Spaniard was joined by two riders as rain started to fall.


Etixx-QuickStep were stringing out the peloton as they approached the Broeckstraat and it was Tom Boonen and Van Keirsbulck who set the pace. They first brought the Sanz group back and with 40km to go, it was also over for the two chasers.


Dimension Data in control

The two leaders were only 10 seconds ahead but the situation stabilized as Etixx-QuickStep stopped their acceleration. Dimension Data took over with Thomson but it was a big fight for position.


Thomson and Matthew Brammeier continued to keep the gap at around 15 seconds as they approached the end of the first lap. They led the peloton across the line 17 seconds behind the two leaders. Due to the wet roads, several Paris-Roubaix contenders decided to step off.


Sagan comes to the fore

With 30km to go, the gap had gone out to 25 seconds and even though Brammeier and Thomson were not chasing hard, a big group of riders were getting dropped. The pace increased when they approached the Broeckstraat and this spelled the end for the break which was brought back just as they hit the cobbles.


Van Keirsbulck led the peloton on the pave until Peter Sagan took over, leading the peloton onto the tarmac where the peloton hit the crosswind. Boonen, Sagan, Gogl, Tyler Farrar, Maximilano Richeze, Michael Kolar all took turns on the front in the stressful situation and many riders were distanced.


Sagan sits up

Dimension Data again took control when things calmed down and while Sagan sat up to stay safe, Bernhard Eisel hit the front. Only 50 riders were left in the main group but the slower pace allowed a regrouping to take place.


Brammeier again hit the front until Cofidis took over with Florian Senechal. However, it was Lotto Soudal on the front as they crossed the line to start the final lap of the circuit.



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