Dubai: His massive legs moving like the well lubricated pistons of an enormous engine, Pascal Ackermann pumped his fists in celebration after realising that he had just won the first leg of a frenzied battle for the bragging rights of the 2020 UAE Tour.
Seconds later, the beaming Bora-Hansgrohe rider disembarked from his ride calmly. There wasn’t a need for extra theatrics — and the German rider in a fashion that oozed extreme efficiency of a very pragmatic kind — didn’t bother to provide any.
After all, the last of the 148 kms of first stage from The Pointe at Palm Jumeirah to Dubai Silicon Oasis had more than its share of drama in the form of a very “hectic sprint”, in Ackermann’s own words.
If what panned out on Sunday is any kind of a prelude, then a blockbuster is sure to play out over the next six days running into February 29, the day when the 2020 champion will be crowned. And a new man it will be after Primoz Roglic decided to skip the chance to defend his title.
Ackermann has made a good start and laid down the gauntlet with an awesome blend of grit, determination and aggression that helped him dig deep in the final kilometre and upstage as many as five riders, including one of the Tour’s favourites Caleb Ewan with each push of the pedal.
Ackermann was well supported by his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates and was clocked at 3:29:09 with Australian Ewan, riding for Lotto Soudal, placing second with 3:29.13.
Slovenian youngster and Vini Zabu’ KTM’s Veljko Stojnic is third behind Ackermann and Ewan in the General Points and General Time classification with 13 points and a time of 3:29:14. Ackermann and Ewan are on 20 and 16 points, respectively.
Ackermann was thrilled to have the summit at the end of Stage 1 and is hoping he can take it easy during the course of Monday’s gruelling Dubai Municipality Stage 2, which is the longest of the Tour’s seven at 203 kms.
“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.
“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.”
Stojnic was presented with the White and Black jerseys for topping the Young Rider and Intermediate Sprint classifications. “It’s really nice to have first and second in the Intermediate Sprint (teammate Leonardo Tortomasi is second) and we will try and defend it.”
Fernando Gaviria of UAE Team Emirates failed to make an impact and finished outside the top 10 after encountering traffic towards the end.
1. Pascal Ackermann, 148km in 3h29’19”, average speed 42.423km/h
2. Caleb Ewan, s.t.
3. Rudy Barbier, s.t.
1. Pascal Ackermann
2. Caleb Ewan at 4”
3. Veljko Stojnic at 5”
— The writer is a sports journalist based in the UAE