Schoten - German rider Marcel Kittel has claimed a record equalling third consecutive Grand Prix de l'Escaut title on Wednesday.
Kittel was favourite in the absence of Britain's Mark Cavendish (flu) and Germany's Andre Greipel (broken collarbone) in a race held on a flat course in the Flanders countryside and ideal for sprinters.
The Giant rider finished ahead of American Tyler Farrar and Dutchman Danny van Poppel at Schoten, to equal previous treble winners Cavendish and Belgian Petrus Oellibrandt.
"Marcel is on another planet," said van Poppel.
"When I saw him accelerate, I knew straight away I wasn't sprinting to victory. He's unstoppable, so I'm satisfied with my third place."
Italy's Alessandro Petacchi had tried to outwit the German by starting the sprint some 400 metres from the line but ran out of energy and slumped to fourth.
"Everything was perfectly clear in my head -- I had to take the lead 250m from the line," said Kittel after his fifth win of the season. "I knew that by taking a lead of several metres I couldn't be caught."
Swiss Fabian Cancellara, winner of the Tour of Flanders last weekend and favourite for Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, failed to feature while his Belgian rival Tom Boonen worked mainly for Petacchi in the final kilometres.
1. Marcel Kittel (GER/Giant) 4hr 33min 53sec (average: 43.814 km/h), 2. Tyler Farrar (USA) s.t., 3. Danny van Poppel (NED) s.t., 4. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) s.t., 5. Sam Bennett (IRL) s.t., 6. Davide Appollonio (ITA) s.t., 7. Danilo Napolitano (ITA) s.t., 8. Andrea Guardini (ITA) s.t., 9. Yannick Martinez (FRA) s.t., 10. Matteo Pelucchi (ITA) s.t.