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Kittel overcomes doubts with Paris-Nice win, targets Scheldeprijs

German sprint ace is back to full steam after slow start and is targeting a limited classics campaign

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CERILLY, France (VN) — Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) timed it just right Tuesday to win what will be the final sprint of an eight-day Paris-Nice laced with climbs from here to the Cote d’Azur.

The big German ace didn’t open up his sprint until 200 meters to go in the long, grinding final kilometer to blow past a flagging Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida).

“I know there will be no more chances for me at Paris-Nice this year and I really wanted to win,” Kittel said. “This was a very important win for me and for my team because it is our first one in a race of this caliber.”

The win counts as Argos’ first WorldTour victory since its inclusion in the elite, 19-team league this season, and Kittel’s second of the year on the heels of his win in stage 1 at the Tour of Oman.

The dash to victory was also a salve on the disappointment of puncturing 15km from the line Monday and missing out on what was the first of only two sprints stages at this year’s “Race to the Sun.”

“I was very motivated coming to Paris-Nice this year and I knew there were only two stages for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to win here,” Kittel said. “When I punctured yesterday, it was bad luck, but it made me even more angry for today. I am satisfied to win because it was not an easy finish at all.”

The 24-year-old Kittel came into 2013 with big ambition, yet stalled at his season debut at the Santos Tour Down Under, where he admitted he was still not in condition to vie for the wins against compatriot and Down Under sprint king André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). Sixth in stage 4 at the Australian race was the best he could muster.

“I was not good at Down Under and it shook my confidence a bit,” he said. “To win here at Paris-Nice is important because it is a class field and the race has a lot of importance.”

Strong headwinds, intermittent showers, and a heavy crash by overnight leader and stage 1 winner Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), marked the 200.5km second stage from Vimory to Cérilly. Bouhanni slid out on a corner and was transported away via ambulance.

Kittel didn’t have a chance to square off against the emerging French sprinter, but he beat back a late surge from Elia Viviani (Cannondale), who finished second after his third-place ride yesterday and claimed yellow.

“It’s a shame Nacer crashed like this. I saw it and he had no chance. He is a big talent and it’s too bad he wasn’t there today to sprint,” Kittel continued. “He showed his class yesterday and for sure he will be a big rival in the coming years.”

Though Kittel vowed to try to finish Paris-Nice, he’s already turning his attention toward his next major challenge: defending his title at GP Scheldeprijs (Grand Prize of the Schelde).

Last year, he nipped Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) in a photo finish to claim his first major one-day title. He’ll also toe the line at Ghent-Wevelgem, KBC Driedaagse van De Panne-Koksijde (Three Days of De Panne), and the Handzame Classic in Belgium.

“Scheldeprijs is my next big goal,” Kittel said. “I will do a few classics, but not the big ones like [Tour of] Flanders or [Paris-]Roubaix. Right now I am focusing on races that can finish in the sprints, so Scheldeprijs is next for me.”

Argos’ elevation to ProTeam status guarantees Kittel a top-quality racing schedule. After the spring, he will have some unfinished business at the Tour de France.

“Last year I became sick at the Tour and I could not do what I had hoped,” he said. “My body was empty and I could not continue. I will return this year with the big goal of trying to win a stage. Any stage would be fine!”

At the Tour, Kittel will have a hard time dragging his six-foot-two, 190-pound frame over the climbs to make it to Paris in an especially mountainous edition for 2013.

In that regard, Paris-Nice’s parcours, where the sprints came early, might well be a preview of what Kittel can expect in July.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.