Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won a disorganized sprint in Schoten, Belgium, on Wednesday to defend his title at the Scheldeprijs semi-classic.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was second and Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM) was third.
“We were full-gas, all-out, and trying to reach the finish line first. It was hectic, but luckily Tom Velits could bring me up the left side; from 250 meters I just went full-gas on the left side. There was a little bit of headwind, but I managed to reach line first. I’m super happy about it.”
The 204-kilometer sprinters’ semi-classic started in Antwerp, Belgium, and finished on three finishing circuits in nearby Schoten.
Stefano Borchi (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), Matt Brammeier (Champion System), and Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) were the day’s long escapees, finally breaking free 90 kilometers into the race.
Blanco was motivated for Theo Bos behind them, however, and the trio’s advantage slipped to just 34 seconds with 37km remaining. Behind the Dutch squad, Argos and Omega Pharma began positioning for defending champion Kittel and three-time winner Cavendish, respectively.
Vandousselaere was the first rider to drop off the breakaway, losing contact inside 30km to go. Sky and FDJ drove the bunch and Borchi ticked up the pace, also distancing Brammeier briefly, but with 26km to go, the race was all together at the front.
The real jockeying for position began with about 20km to go, with Argos, Omega Pharma, and Lotto each making bids for the front of the peloton. Garmin-Sharp and Orica-GreenEdge were there, as well as Sky.
Omega Pharma settled into the point with 16km to go. Behind Cavendish’s train, Lotto and Blanco each lost riders to mechanicals, with Sep Vanmarcke dropping back to pace Graeme Brown for the Dutch squad.
Up front, the head of the peloton was a rainbow of team colors as Borut Bozic (Astana) led the bunch inside 10km to go. Omega Pharma and Sky joined the Kazakh squad near the front, with no single team taking charge.
With 5km to go, it was Sky taking up the charge, lining up four riders in front of Blanco. But the Dutch Argos squad pressed through with six riders lined up with 4km to go. The Blanco train jumped aboard and with 4km to go, a hodgepodge of the three teams rode at the front, every man looking over his shoulder, apparently disinterested in taking charge too early.
Argos took to the front with 2km remaining, but a surge by Roger Kluge (Netapp-Endura) delivered the German squad into the mix. MTN-Qhubeka was also there for Milano-Sanremo winner Gerald Ciolek.
Lotto opened a hectic sprint in the center of the road. Kittel jumped up the left side of the finish straight. Markus left his line along the barriers and tussled with a Bos in the last 100 meters, forcing the Blanco rider to sit and lose any shot at the finale.
“I could have done a little bit better if I wasn’t hindered in the sprint,” said Bos, who admitted he didn’t have the power to contest for the victory.
Cavendish came from more than 15 riders back and came around on the right, but it was too late. Kittel had his second consecutive Antwerp prize.
Cavendish was angry after the finish.
“I don’t know [if I’ll talk to the team], I don’t know. We rode so well all day until last kilometer. I don’t know,” said Cavendish. “What went wrong? No idea. I don’t know what went wrong. I didn’t win the bike race.”
Markus held on for third, with Andrea Guardini (Astana) fourth and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) fifth.
Ronde van Flaanderen winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) crashed 50km into the stage, but finished the race.