Kittel has sights set on Scheldeprijs title defense

German triumphed in the one-day Flanders race in 2012, but he enters this week's edition at less than 100 percent

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KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Nearly a year after winning Scheldeprijs in a rain-soaked sprint, German Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) isn’t where he wants to be heading into his title defense.

He’s battling back from eight days off the bike due to an illness, and he had a rough time at last week’s VDK Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (Three Days of De Panne), which isn’t exactly a sprinter’s dream but isn’t Alpe D’Huez, either.

“I restarted racing here at De Panne,” Kittel said. In Tuesday’s stage 1, he finished behind the main group after Peter Sagan (Cannondale) broke away and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) dug in at the front for teammates Mark Cavendish and eventual overall winner Sylvain Chavanel.

“I restarted training, and could do one block of training. Of course, you miss a lot, and you lose a lot. I have to see how I feel. It’s difficult to say now,” Kittel said of his sprinting form.

Kittel has two wins this season, stage victories at the Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice. That’s nothing to thumb one’s nose at, but it’s not good enough for the big German, who is among the fastest in the sport when he’s firing on all cylinders. He won the Belgian semi-classic Scheldeprijs last year and hopes to defend his title on Wednesday.

“My big goal was Scheldeprijs, but I have to see how I feel,” he said. “It will be difficult I think, but maybe I am lucky and have got some good legs on that day.”

Kittel is a knock-down, drag-out sprinter, and he has plenty of competition if he wants to be among the sport’s best and improve on a lackluster 2012 Tour de France. He was never at full speed in that race because of a stomach illness.

“There are so many good sprinters at the moment. Cavendish, Greipel. They’re all in good shape,” Kittel said. “Sagan. I think there are 10 sprinters here who are all good. I think for the Tour there’s a lot of time. I plan to have a short break after Scheldeprijs. I will start now to do training and prepare for it.”

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