Ackermann insists there's room for him, Sagan and Bennett at Bora in 2019

24-year-old picks out German title as turning point of breakthrough season

Pascal Ackermann smiled at the question as he picked at a foil container of rice outside the anti-doping control truck in Qinzhou. The German champion was still digesting his victory minutes earlier on stage 2 of the Tour of Guangxi, but at this time of the year, thoughts tend to turn quickly to next season.

The 24-year-old has claimed nine wins in 2018, including six at WorldTour level, singling himself out as one of the coming men of world sprinting. His Bora-Hansgrohe team, however, also features two men who might be said to have already arrived: three-time world champion Peter Sagan and triple Giro d’Italia stage winner Sam Bennett.

Even on a top-flight team riding a full quota of WorldTour races, three sprinters can be a crowd, though Bennett, Sagan and Ackermann have dovetailed well this year. But will there still be enough room on Bora-Hansgrohe for all three fast men in 2019, particularly when the season just gone by has seen Ackermann and Bennett hit top speed?

"Up to now, yes," Ackermann laughed. "I think we have a lot of strong sprinters. We always work well together, and we split all the races between us. We have to see what happens in the next years."

It looks certain that Ackermann will make his Grand Tour debut in 2019, though it remains to be seen where he will take his bow. This year, Bora-Hansgrohe sent Sagan to the Tour de France and Sam Bennett to the Giro d'Italia, but lined out at the Vuelta a España without a recognised sprinter.

"For sure there is one Grand Tour in the programme next year but I don’t know which one yet," said Ackermann.

As well as carrying three different sprinters, Bora-Hansgrohe have assembled the bones of three lead-out trains, albeit with some interchangeable carriages. The one fixture in Ackermann’s entourage is his fellow countryman Rudiger Selig, who has accompanied him on this late-season haul to China.

"We always have like three guys for a sprint," Ackermann said. "Rudi Selig is my last lead-out man and the guys before always switch. We have the German group and I think we work really well together. And even with the guys who are here at this race, it’s like we work every week together."

Ackermann lost sight of Selig on Wednesday’s rain-soaked finale in Qinzhou, a city of four million people on Beibu Gulf, but the wide finishing straight on Jinhaiwan Street offered opportunity to move up. The German held his nerve and powered past Fabio Jakobsen (Quick Step Floors) and overall leader Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) to take the win.

"It was really hectic. I lost my lead-out man and then I came from the back, but I was lucky because I had so much speed and then I was in the front," said Ackermann. "We have three more opportunities here this week, so we are still looking forward with some more goals."

Regardless of the final tally of victories, this will go down as a breakout season for Ackermann, who turned professional in 2017 after taking silver at the under-23 Worlds in Doha the previous October. Ackermann’s maiden season at WorldTour level went by without a victory, though there were some sure signs of his quality, including fifth place at Scheldeprijs.

After placing second in the same race this season, Ackermann’s year caught fire when he landed a stage win at the Tour de Romandie in April. A victory at Critérium du Dauphiné followed, but the pivotal moment, perhaps, was the German national championships in Einhausen, where he scorched to the jersey ahead of a sprint field that included John Degenkolb, Max Walscheid, André Greipel and Marcel Kittel.

"When I got the national jersey I grew up and I became much stronger in the head, so that was the key moment in this season," Ackermann said.

"I don’t think we did that much different this year, but I had a lot more opportunities. Now I have my own lead-out train, too, and I think that works really well. We look forward to next year."

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