At the age of twenty-five German sprinter Pascal Ackermann has already won a smattering of high-profile bike races; stages at the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour de Romandie in 2018 being the most prominent.
He is no mug.
Sam Bennett, his Irish teammate and sprint rival at the Bora-Hansgrohe team, took three wins at last years Giro. He’s twenty-eight and somewhere around his peak. He’s won stages at Paris-Nice, the Tour of Turkey, and the Vuelta a San Juan this year.
On paper, Bennett edges it.
On his birth certificate, Ackerman gets the nod.
As a German, in a German team, he’s the man most likely to tickle the fancy of title sponsor Hansgrohe in their quest to sell more showers and more bathroom fittings to more people. He’s the long game. The project. He’s at the Giro while Bennett stays home kicking his heels.
Bennett, in recent months, has grumbled a little about this. Many who follow the sport think he has a point. But sport, as we know, is also business.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Ackermann is under a bit of pressure to win a stage or two at this Giro.
There are five key sprinters in this year’s race: Caleb Ewan, Fernando Gaviria, Elia Viviani, Arnaud Demare and Ackermann. The big beasts. Plan A for these chaps is to get an early win and take the pressure off. Do that, and for the winning team the race has become an instant success and the prospect of a frosty post-Giro dinner with gloomy sponsors and their underwhelmed guests is avoided.
Prior to stage two, today, no-one had picked Ackerman to win. The smart money, and even the slightly reckless money, was on Viviani, Gaviria, or Ewan. Ackermann would play a bit part. Top five, perhaps. And we’d all picture Bennet, at home, giving it the ‘L’ for loser across his forehead and desperately resisting a mischievous Tweet on the subject.Embed from Getty Images
But as the sprint formed itself, Ewan’s lead-out train clicked into position, and the little Aussie launched himself, only for our German shower salesman to power through and crush his rivals.
It was surprising.
It was impressive.
It sent the pro cycling rumour mill headlong in the direction of the most obvious mid-season transfer shenanigan; Marcel Kittel, fellow German sprinter, has just announced his break from the sport and cancelled his contract with Katusha-Alpecin.
So Bennett moves to Katusha, Ackermann sets about proving his employers right, shower sales go through the roof, and our German sprinter wins so many stages that the post-race party becomes a Vegas show, with a Michelin starred tasting menu, vintage wine, a magician, a tombola, a bouncy castle, a petting zoo, and an impromptu 2am set from ‘the Hoff’ to round things off.
For Hansgrohe, business is good.