After sprinting to his 12th victory of 2019 on stage 3 of the Tour of Guangxi, it would seem that Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) has definitively announced himself as a top-tier sprinter during this, his third professional season.
Included among his wins are two Giro d'Italia stages and four more at WorldTour level including Saturday's stage. But the German doesn't yet see his name among cycling's elite fastmen, preferring to stay modest despite overcoming two near misses to record a stage victory in Nanning.
On stage 1 in Beihai, Ackermann launched early and was edged out at the line by Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), while stage 2 in Qinzhou saw Dan McLay (EF Education First) sweep to victory after the German was impeded in the finale.
"I think it was a goal to grow up to be one of the top sprinters in the world," Ackermann told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 3 in Nanning. "We're on a good path, but I'm still not there, I think.
"It has been a fantastic season for me until now. It doesn't matter what happens here – I've had a fantastic year and I'm looking forward to next season."
After two second places, Ackermann turned it around on stage 3, easing to victory from a group of 49 which emerged at the head of the race after the late final climb.
"My finish line was on top of that last climb," said Ackermann after the stage. "I was really fighting and looking to Trentin because for me he was the main guy for today. He showed up in the last days that he's a fucking good climber. When I made it up in a good position, I was really sure that I could fight for the win today."
Pre-stage, Ackermann wasn't sure if the day would be right for him, given the climbing involved and the late timing of the final ascent. In the morning he told Cyclingnews that chances to add to his 2019 tally were running out. But now he can look forward to the final two stages, which are nailed-on sprints.
"I was so disappointed the last two days, that today I was really fighting for the victory," he said after the podium ceremony in Nanning. "My team did an amazing job, and I'm really, really thankful to them. I hope we can continue in the rest of the race."
Complicating things on the opening two stages were the wide roads – three or four-lane highways for the most part, that characterise the race. As a result, the final run-ins have been far from technical, while the wide finishing straights mean chaos in the dash to the line.
"Actually, I don't like this," Ackermann said of the highways. "I like to have some corners or small roads to the finish. It eliminates some other riders before. If you see the sprints from the top it's always a big mess, like yesterday it was a lottery who will win.
"You always have to find a good gap, and if you don't you lose. It doesn't matter if it's at 300 or 200 metres to go – you just get one chance in this race.
"Today was different," he added after the stage. "The main part of the race was the climb and if you're not in front at the top then you can't go for the victory.
"If you saw the race from the top of the climb there wasn't a big mix from the back to the front. It was a completely different race to the last days."
Ackermann's stage win continues a season-ending run which has been something to behold. Barring the World Championships road race, which he didn't finish, the 25-year-old has finished either first or second at every race he's entered so far, with wins coming at the GP de Fourmies and Gooikse Pijl.
Since the start of August, he's finished on the podium in 12 of the 16 stages and races he's completed.
"I think I have worked really hard at the end of the season," he said. "You can see the last seven races, all finishing first or second. I think the shape is good, but still, I look forward to the end of the season."
What comes after that is not certain, though. A sprinter of Ackermann's calibre would be expected to take the start of the Tour de France, to compete against the crème de la crème of the peloton. Teammate Peter Sagan's stranglehold on the green jersey has meant Ackermann has yet to race a Tour, and the recently revealed 2020 route is far from a sprinter's delight.
"We have to see what the team decides, which Grand Tour I will do. Right now, I don't know so I cannot say about my race programme.
"Next week we'll get some introductions about next season, and we'll also wait for the presentation of the Giro d'Italia route. Then we'll figure out what I'm doing."
Regardless of where he ends up racing in 2020, the wins look set to keep on coming for Ackermann. And if his 2019 campaign wasn't that of a top-tier sprinter, then his status will no doubt be confirmed next season.