For all the slight confusion surrounding his top speed on the downhill sprint that decided stage two of the Tour de Pologne, one thing has already become abundantly clear about Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe): In the bunch sprints in Eastern Europe's premier stage race this year, no-one is going quicker than the German sprinter.
Ackermann told reporters after the stage his recorded top speed was 105kph on the 900 metre downhill into Katowice, rated - precisely because of the descent and the fearsome velocities reached upon it - as the most emblematic finish for bunch sprints in the Tour de Pologne. If definitively confirmed, the German's speed which would pulverize the previous unofficial record of 80.8kph for the Katowice descent, set by Jonas Van Genechten in 2014.
Given its very unusual characteristics, the Katowice finale is a notoriously tricky one, with sprinters often changing their gearing and tactics to try and outpace their rivals, and certainly Ackermann's radical change of line in the closing metres with Alvaro Hodeg (Quick-Step Floors) in his wake, was certainly not in the unwritten race manual of standard sprint tactics.
But the German told reporters afterwards, a change of strategy was virtually inevitable on the long, straight downhill finishing straight into Katowice.
"We knew was a really difficult fast sprint so we had to come [at it] from the back," Ackermann said, "you are not able to sprint from the front.
"So we said OK, that's why we have to go from the back, so we have to come at it with the high speed."
"It was really fast because it was downhill, so I had to use a big chainring" - in his case a 55, compared with last year's winner Sacha Modolo, who used a 54.
Ackermann admitted his weaving across the peloton had been risky, although the result subsequently stood.
"It was risky because I was going too fast in the end to find a perfect line and then I had to go to the right side and it was critical but it was OK, I think," he said. But he had no idea, that Hodeg, second again, was glued to his back wheel. "I was just watching the front because I got taught just to watch the finish line and it doesn't matter what's behind you," Ackermann observed.
Had he opted to look at the rest of stage 2, rather than the peloton, in a hypothetical rear-view mirror, Ackermann would have seen a near perfect carbon copy of the opening day's action. Much of it was spent at a steady, not flat-out pace on flattish roads darting between industrial cities and more rural backdrops in warm, dry weather in southern Poland. Once again there was a breakaway reaching around three minutes, although it was a testament to Ackermann's lead in the race, as well as his overall superiority, that the rest of the teams left it to Bora-Hansgrohe to do almost all of the spadework to reel back the break.
Ackermann said that despite some early confusion in the stage when an initial opening circuit was cancelled, his teammates had worked equally hard to keep the break under control. Once again he singled out Cesare Benedetti, saying he "was doing an amazing job, pulled from kilometre five to 15 kilometres to go, all the day pulling, I think was a victory for him, he was amazing today."
In the short-term, after two such triumphs, there can only be one objective for Ackermann on Monday's final flat stage before the race heads into the hills: "trying for the hat-trick" as he put it. But come what may, the German's 2018 Tour de Pologne is already a huge success.
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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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