Giro d’Italia stage 2: Pascal Ackermann takes sprint victory

German champion wins first grand tour sprint of his career, with the GC staying static.

Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) silenced questions regards his selection over  teammate Sam Bennett with a strong sprint finish in the Giro d’Italia’s opening road stage on Sunday.

The German national champion launched himself off the wheel of Caleb Ewan, who had been the first to light up the sprint, and held off a late charge from Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) to take a victory on his very first grand tour start.

All remained static in the GC battle, with all the key contenders finishing safely in the bunch.

“I’m so happy,” said Ackermann. “It was my first chance to win a stage and we did it great. I think that all the team is more motivated and it’s good for the next three weeks. For sure there was big pressure, but it is my first grand tour and you never know what will happen in your first grand tour. I’m happy to have won my first stage.”

The 205-kilometer stage was dedicated to local hero Gino Bartali, and looked set to be one for the sprinters. However, between the start in Bologna and finish in Fucecchio were a series of climbs of different lengths and grade, including two kickers in the final 60km, making the day far from straightforward.

A breakaway, formed of Francois Bidard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Marco Frapporti (Androni-Sidermec), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF), Lukasz Owsian (CCC Team), Sean Bennett (EF-Education First), Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Giulio Ciccone, and William Clarke (Trek-Segafredo), went away immediately as rain fell heavily on the wrapped-up peloton.

With the probable bunch sprint in Fucecchio ahead, it was mainly sprint teams controlling the pace in the bunch, with Deceuninck-Quick-Step working for Italian champion Viviani, Lotto-Soudal for Ewan, and UAE-Team Emirates for Fernando Gaviria. However, Jumbo-Visma were also working throughout the stage protecting maglia rosa Primoz Roglic.

Although the weather calmed and the roads dried out notably as the race went on, the typically nervous racing of a grand tour’s opening road stage was evident, with a constant battle at the front of the peloton as teams looked to keep their respective sprinters and GC men safe. The twisting, narrow roads and greasy surfaces heightened the tension, with nobody willing to risk getting caught up in crashes or splits.

The breakaway held a gap of around three minutes for much of the race, though the eight-man unit had been whittled down to four as they hit the slopes of the final climb of the day, which topped out with only 25km remaining.

With all the sprinters still in contention on the final flat run in to Fucecchio, the pace in the peloton started increasing, and the gap to the breakaway tumbled, with all four being caught in the final 10km. Bora-Hansgrohe set the pace nearly all the way into the finale, with Jumbo-Visma shadowing them, clustered around Roglic.

As the race entered the final kilometer, there was a crash in the bunch, though all the key men seemed to escape unscathed.

Lotto-Soudal took up the leadout first, with Jasper de Buyst navigating Ewan through the melee. The Australian hit the front early, with around 200m to go. He took a gap but started to fade, and Ackermann launched off him in the final 50m, narrowly beating pre-race sprint favorite Viviani to the line. Ewan finished third.

All the contenders for the overall finished safely behind, and so there are no changes in the GC going into Monday’s stage 3. Roglic will again wear pink on a mostly flat stage which will give the sprinters another shot at glory.