Germany’s Pascal Ackerman overcame a final burst of effort from some of the top sprinters in the world to take top honours of Stage 1 of the UAE Tour 2020, with Caleb Ewan finishing second and Rudy Barbier a rung below him. In the final 1000 metres of the 148-km long stage, Ackerman, riding for Bora–Hansgrohe, was in the middle of a hectic sprint, and with a resilient show of power, grit and determination, pipped five of the best sprinters in the world, including Dylan Groenewegen. Also Read - Adam Yates Solos to Victory, Bosses Tough Climb of Jebel Hafeet

Fernando Gaviria and Mark Cavendish, whom Ackerman shared a table with for a press conference a day ahead of the opening stage, landed outside of Top-10. Also Read - UAE Tour 2020: Caleb Ewan Doubles Up At Hatta Dam

The first stage was a flat-out stretch where to begin with, Nikolay Cherkasov and Cristian Scarponi of Gazprom-Rusvelo, and Leonardo Tortomasi and Veljko Stojnic of Vini Zabu were allowed to go up the road by the peloton. Also Read - Chris Froome Returns to Professional Cycling at UAE Tour 2020

With the gap to the peloton reduced to 2:30 and about 50 kms away from the finish line, riders from UAE Team Emirates, Deceuninck and Lotto Soudal were helping control the breakaway for their sprinters. As the race moved from the deserts to the Dubai skyscrapers, the riders cut left and rights to return to the city. Despite the wind moving at around 20km/h, the speed was up as the sprint teams formed together to create their lead out trains.

Stojnic won the intermediate sprint with 100km left. 60km later, his team-mate Tortomasi won the second intermediate sprint as the pair registered both points and time bonuses to give them top 10 GC standings. As the race came to the final 13 km stretch, Quick Steps’ Sam Bennett and Bahrain Merida’s Mark Cavendish came to the fore.

Quick Steps had paved the way for Bennett to usher through, but Mitchelton-Scott stormed past many and allowed Luka Mezgec and Pascal Ackermann to launch through from behind. Fernando Gaviria and Quick-Step’s Michael Morkov were squeezed out, derailing both the Colombian and Bennett as the sprint unfolded up ahead. Once Ackerman crossed the finish line, his arms up in joy, he was off his ride immediately and celebrated with his friends while basking in the joy of attaining bragging rights of the Dubai stage.

“I’m super happy with this victory because almost all the top sprinters are here and I wasn’t sure if my shape was good enough to beat them all,” said Ackermann, who was presented with the Red and Green jerseys for leading the General Time and General Points classification respectively,” Ackerman said after crossing the finish line before anyone else.

“Now, I know that my shape is good and I can take it easy the next few days. It was a hectic sprint in which I was jumping from one guy’s wheel to another one. I took my chance at the right time. Everyone was really strong but now I can take it more relaxed and easy. The team helped me to get into a good position. It was a really good day for us.”

With four more sprint stages to go, by the time a winner is decided next Sunday, we’d have had a bumper series of bunch sprints. Ackerman was the proud recipient of the red jersey to have taken the top lead and the second stage couldn’t have come at a better time considering it will finish at the Hatta Dam, where he won last year.

“It’s never easy to have a good sprint, but I saw a gap as we already had a high speed. It was a big surprise for the other sprinters that I went so early, but we did everything right. We spoke with my lead out man Rudi[ger Selig]. He asked me what train I wanted and I replied ‘I just trust you’. So we were looking for each other, not the other sprinters. At this time of the year, you never know who is in good shape, and it happens that everybody is in good shape,” Ackerman said during the post-match conference.

“We tried something different today and it was good. Last year, the Giro d’Italia was the first big goal of my career. Winning the first sprint has been a big step for my head. It gave me a lot of confidence. This year, we’ll try and win some sprints and we’ll have two possibilities for winning them with Peter [Sagan]. Maybe we can create some surprises. I’m looking forward to the Giro again.”