5. Marcel Kittel: First classic by a whisker
The scene was Belgian classics at its best — or worst. After a brutal race fraught with rain, wind and cold, the 2012 Scheldeprijs came down to its inevitable mass gallop out of a reduced group of leading protagonists.
The “sprinter’s classic” didn’t fail to deliver, with Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) taking a slender victory over Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Theo Bos (Rabobank).
The win was huge for the towering, 6-foot-2-inch Kittel, who just keeps getting better. While his Tour de France debut was derailed by a stomach virus, Kittel bounced back to win six more sprints in the second half of the season.
The victory would have meant the world to Farrar, who bet heavily on last year’s spring classics campaign. Haunted by the death of Wouter Weylandt and his own heavy crash in the 2011 Vuelta a España, Farrar wanted to repeat his Scheldeprijs win from 2010.
Instead it was Kittel taking the flowers in a photo finish that should open new ground in his skill set. Already a force in long, power sprints, Kittel will work to develop his classics potential as he builds on his endurance and tactics for the longer, 200km-plus one-day races.
With Argos entering the WorldTour league for 2013, Kittel will be getting more than a few chances.