What happens when your main rival doesn’t bother to sprint? Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) won the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne but said he’s treating the race as training. One day of practice on the podium drinking champagne, the next two days just getting his kilometers in. His body is at De Panne but his mind is over in Flanders.
In his absence, Marcel Kittel (Project 14Ti) stomped everyone on a race bike in Koksijde in what was truly a mass sprint. He powered away from Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) like it was vintage Petacchi or Cipolini. Kittle had an extra gear, bigger thighs and better timing.
“When I saw the finish line for the first time I said to Bert De Backer ‘that’s perfect for me.’ It’s 1,000 meters long, straight, wind on the back, high speed. That’s something I really like. The finish was also chaotic and every rider has to fight on his own for his place and come to the front and that was something which was a big advantage for me,” said Kittel.
Meanwhile Sagan was at the back of the race in relax mode. “We talked in the team before the race and it was decided that I would only do training,” said the Slovakian star. On stage one he felt his training was going so well he decided to steal the win but now he is back to track.
Racing and not just training were Kenny Van Hummel 0f Vacansoleil (just off the podium in 4th), Andre Greipel in fifth (what’s up with Andre lately?) and Francesco Chicchi of Omega Pharma-QuickStep (an unlucky 13th). The rest of the bunch piled in — there were 141 riders given the same time as Kittel. That’s kinda weird but that’s the pan flat De Panne finish.
Non-racer Sagan made in clear even before De Panne began what the priorities were: “That’s the reason why I am here, for experience.” Still in the hunt for a sponsor, Kittel and project 1T4i are in De Panne to win stages. There’s no training involved because who wants to find a bunch of guys who are just in Belgium to do some tempo work? “I went full gas. Luckily I had really good legs today in the sprint,” said the German.
A chapeau to Marcel Kittel and we’re happy to report that Peter Sagan is back at the hotel with his feet up enjoying a cold drink.