Ackermann's breakthrough season continues apace in Tour de Pologne

Bora-Hansgrohe racer fends off Hodeg in fast and furious opening sprint

Such has been the scale of his success, it's hard to believe that Pascal Ackermann's meteoric rise towards the top of the sprinting hierarchy only began this April. But in terms of wins, at least, that's when the Bora-Hansgrohe fast man's pro breakthrough actually started.

In late April, barely 15 months after turning professional, Ackermann took his first win in the last stage of the Tour de Romandie, since when he's netted stages of the Criterium du Dauphine, the German Nationals, the RideLondon-Surrey Classic and now the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne.

"I feel really strong in the head and the team stays 100 per cent behind me and do an amazing job always, they trust me and I trust them and that's the formula for victories," the 24-year-old said a few minutes after donning the yellow jersey of leader of the Tour de Pologne.

In a sense, it was possible to see this breakthrough coming. A silver medallist in the U23 World Championship Road Race in Doha, Ackermann had a quiet first season at WorldTour level in 2017, with a fifth place in Scheldeprijs and only one top three stage placing, in the Tour de Guangxi to his name.

But the spring of 2018 was a very different story as Ackermann claimed two top-three positions in the Abu Dhabi Tour, a third in the Handzame Classic, second in the Driedaagse De Panne and second in Schelderprijs. The wins were still beyond him, it seemed, but the gaps were quickly narrowing.

Then from Romandie onwards, it has been a very different story for the German, with four victories at WorldTour level to his name since last April, continuing through to the RideLondon-Surrey Classic, and with the latest in Pologne on Saturday.

"It was a different win to London because there I had my real lead-out man with me, and today [Saturday] I had to watch the other guys," Ackermann told Cyclingnews after his victory in the opening stage of Eastern Europe's top race.

"I went at 250 metres to go and it wasn't easy because it was a really fast sprint and if you ride in the peloton it's much easier than to ride in the front," Ackermann added. But even in the final metres, Ackermann was still not slowing notably - as Alvaro Hodeg (Quick-Step Floors), whilst steadily closing the gap, found to his cost.

Doing three laps of the finishing circuit in Krakow helped him to victory as well, the German said. "For sure it was important to know the parcours because the first corner" - a 270-degree turn soon after the line - "is really difficult and we had to ride on the front there."

Overall, Ackermann had nothing but praise for his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates, on what he told reporters had been "a tough stage, always up and down so I told the team we had to make it as hard as possible and they did an amazing job.

"Cesare [Benedetti] was pulling all day on the front, then other teammates brought me to the front, and I could finish it off. It was really hectic, but the team brought me up there and [when I accelerated] I didn't have any other guys around me, so it was perfect."

Perhaps the most delicate moment of the sprint came when Hodeg was closing the gap in the final metres. But the Colombian recognised afterwards that Ackermann had succeeded in surprising him with his long-distance acceleration, and said that the German had totally deserved the win.

"I felt he was coming up [on me] but I saw the finish line is close enough and it was OK," Ackermann said. "And I'm really proud to have won another race in the German champion's jersey, it gives me wings like I had last week."

So what next? With so many top-name fast men present, Tour de Pologne will likely feature two more sprints in the next two days, and Ackermann has every intention of being in the thick of the action, defending his overall lead.

"Then," he said, as Pologne heads into the hills on stage 4, "we have some other climbers in the team and they have to do their work."

But it would surely be unwise to bet on the German notching up another success between now and Tuesday - and it would definitely be unwise for what remains of the season.

If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be part of a top-level cycling team, and to be on the ground, inside the barriers, at the Tour de France, then RUNNING WITH WOLVES will take you there. It is available to rent for $3.99 USD or buy for $6.99 USD.

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RUNNING WITH WOLVES from Cyclingnews Films on Vimeo, produced by La Pédale and a special thanks to Quick-Step Floors.

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