In a year where the Vuelta a España’s overall classification came down to the wire, the race’s final bunch sprint on Sunday was an equally appropriately tight affair, with winner Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe) admitting afterwards he had no idea who had crossed the line first.
The German’s uncertainty was such that he took a long sideways glance at rival Sam Bennett (Deceunink-QuickStep) seconds after the two had crossed the line at the head of the pack, as if to see whether the Irishman was on the point of raising his arms in triumph.
As it was, neither Bennett nor Ackermann were willing to claim the win. Ackermann said that after a fraught sprint where multiple lead-out trains, from Deceuninck-QuickStep through to Sunweb, UAE Team Emirates and Mitchelton-Scott, had clashed hard in the closing kilometre to try and control the finish, the actual result was far from clear.
Regardless of whether he took a second stage, Ackermann had been awarded a first win in the Vuelta at Aguilar de Campoo on stage 9 after Bennett, the quickest at the line that day, had been relegated for shoulder swiping a rival in the last kilometre, and the German was promoted to first place as a result.
But Ackermann was asked if in fact, having ‘won’ thanks to a rival’s relegation, he wanted to prove in Madrid he could beat the other Vuelta sprinters on the bike as well as indirectly, via a commissaire’s decision
“For sure,” he confirmed, “I always said I wanted to win a stage where I crossed the finish line first, because that last one I’m not really counting as a victory. I’m happy I won today, and my teammates did an amazing job, a big thanks to them.”
While Bennett finished second, the same result that he took in 2019 in Madrid when beaten by Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Ackermann said it was a very tight match.
“I wasn’t sure. I was asking Sam who won, we had to wait some minutes afterwards,” Ackermann said afterwards. “I’m so happy to finish this year off with a victory.”
Second a few days ago at Puebla de Sanabria behind Jasper Philipsen (UAE-Team Emirates) suggested that Ackermann was close to completing the Vuelta in strong form. He confirmed that with victory in the most prestigious sprint finish of the Vuelta a España in central Madrid. But in a Vuelta with multiple mountain stages and at the end of the season, he recognised that getting to the finish was not the most straightforward of experiences.
“It was a really hard race, we never had an easy stage and there was always a big fight for the breakaway and then a lot of mountains. Yesterday [stage 17] you could see most of the sprinters and the team workers were suffering right from the start. I had to save a lot of energy where I could, but it’s finally paid off.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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