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Kittel’s road to the Tour passes through Scheldeprijs

GENT, Belgium (VN) — German Marcel Kittel aims to win a record third straight Scheldeprijs title Wednesday. The win would also put a score on the board for the Giant-Shimano sprinter, who has yet to win this season in Europe. A victory could come a little easier without some favorites starting in Antwerp.

Kittel told journalists he would miss those rivals. “I always say that it’s great when you win when the best guys are in the races as well,” he explained, “but it is how it is when you are sick or injured, you can’t start.”

The blond rider in Giant’s white and black colors has won overseas four times so far this season. Three of those were stage wins at the Dubai Tour, where he faced Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Kittel also won the People’s Choice Classic, a one-day race in Australia ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under.

André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), another top German sprinter, skipped Dubai for the Tour of Qatar. The Scheldeprijs one-day classic would have also been Greipel’s goal had he not broken his collarbone in Gent-Wevelgem last week.

Cavendish cancelled his Scheldeprijs plans on Sunday due to lingering effects of a fever he likely caught while racing Milano-Sanremo. He also missed Scheldeprijs in 2012 because of the birth of his daughter.

If Kittel wins three, he would be the first cyclist to do so at the Flanders race that began in 1907. He would also tie the win record held by Cavendish (2007, 2008, 2011) and Belgian Piet Oellibrandt (1960, 1962, 1963).

The win would also erase misses in the Driedaagse De Panne (Three Days of De Panne) last week and Tirreno-Adriatico last month.

At De Panne, Kittel missed the split in the third day’s road stage. In the second stage, Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) beat him for the win. Kittel placed eighth.

Tirreno-Adriatico went poorly. Kittel crashed and threw his bike in the first sprint opportunity, and lost ground on the second chance.

“With the crash in the beginning, Tirreno wasn’t perfect race for me,” he said. “It’s also part of racing. I wanted to go for a stage win but it was very hard. I wasn’t in great shape but I made an important step there with doing those races: long hours on the bike that helped me for Scheldeprijs.”

The yellow jersey goal

Kittel’s eyes are on tomorrow’s Belgian classic but also look further ahead to the Tour de France. When the French grand tour starts in Yorkshire on July 5, Kittel wants to be in shape to win the first stage and the yellow jersey.

Last year, he won the crash-marred Tour opener in Bastia and took the yellow jersey. He said after the stage, “This is the greatest day in my whole life.”

To get to the Tour de France this year, Kittel divides his schedule with German sprinter/classics rider John Degenkolb. Instead of racing a sprinter’s edition of Milano-Sanremo, he left it to Degenkolb as the team had planned.

“I have no regrets. It was obvious that it was a very hard race,” Kittel said. “The team had a plan, which was totally fine for me. I have no experience at all in that race and it would’ve been unfair to chance the plan.”

Kittel’s rough 2014 plan includes Scheldeprijs, the Tour de Romandie, the Giro d’Italia, and of course, the Tour de France.

“Like Cavendish, that’s one of biggest goals for me, as well,” Kittel said. “I’m also starting in the Giro to pick up stage wins there, that’s also part of the big plan. I’m looking forward to it. The Giro and the Tour, and in between the training and the preparation, that’s enough work for one season.”