A superb team ride and an unbelievable sprint on a tricky course saw the German power to a memorable success in Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde.
Marcel Kittel displayed again his incredible sprint skills and mental strength by taking an impressive win Thursday morning in Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, despite hitting the deck inside the final 15 kilometers. Even though the course was only 118 kilometers in length, stage 3a was by no means a quiet one, as a strong breakaway and vicious crosswinds didn't offer the peloton a moment of respite on their loop around De Panne.
Third on the previous day, Marcel was determined to end the Belgian race on a high, but his plans seemed to crumble on the narrow urban circuit in De Panne, where he was caught in a crash and lost more than 40 seconds before remounting and linking up with four teammates, who were waiting to pace him back in the bunch. At the front, Katusha-Alpecin pushed a fierce tempo behind the breakaway, but Quick-Step Floors' persistence and fantastic team spirit prevailed in the end, as they put in a stunning ride and staged a remarkable comeback, closing the gap with five kilometers to go.
Going under the flamme rouge gantry, Marcel was still making his way to the front of the pack and entered the final bend of this chaotic stage in tenth place. This didn't stop the powerful German from overtaking several riders before positioning himself in the wheel of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin); Kittel came around the Norwegian with 150 meters to go and took a convincing win, roaring over the line a bike length ahead of his rival.
"The moment I crashed, I said to myself 'It's not the perfect situation, but it's not impossible to make it back to the bunch'. Even before going on the circuit we did a great job as a team, and after crashing, Jack, Tim, Davide and Fabio waited and helped me return to the peloton with five kilometers to go, where Max and Saba played an important role in bringing me in the best possible position. It was difficult to make the catch, but I did it thanks to this impressive team", said Marcel Kittel after his first European victory of the season.
The 28-year-old German, who racked up Quick-Step Floors' 19th win of the season, talked also of his next goal: "Wednesday I'll race Scheldeprijs and I'm very motivated to defend my title and get my fifth victory there. I know it won't be easy, but I am in a good shape, I felt good here in De Panne and our team is very strong, so I'm looking forward to that race."
Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde overall leader Philippe Gilbert concluded the day in the bunch and will start the final stage – a 14.2km individual time trial – with a 50-second cushion over the next rider in the general classification.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele