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Unlike any other sprinter in the WorldTour, however, he is the only one who is a teammate with Peter Sagan.
The German speedster, who turns 27 this week, holds out hope of racing the Tour this summer for the first time. But will there be space on the crowded Bora-Hansgrohe depth chart? He hopes so.
“I hope I will be there this year, and start my first Tour de France,” Ackermann said Sunday. “I am on the long list for the Tour, but it’s not decided right now. You never know about the changes during the season. With Peter, we have another good sprinter, and then we will decide after the first races what my program will be this year.”
- Ackermann emerging as sprint force
- No guarantee Sagan will race Tour de France
- Anatomy of a sprint train
Since joining Bora-Hansgrohe in 2017, Sagan has been the gravitational center of the team, and rightly commands a big part of the team’s resources. When Sagan starts any race, he is in it to win it, and automatically enjoy leadership protection.
That dynamic helped nudge Sam Bennett out of the door after 2019, in part because the Irish sprinter knew he’d see fewer chances to sprint for his own results if he stayed at Bora-Hansgrohe. Bennett landed at Deceuninck-Quick-Step, and promptly won two stages, and usurped the green jersey from Sagan in the 2020 Tour.
The rise of Ackermann, who’s raced two grand tours so far with solid success in the sprints, creates a similar quandary. Ackermann won two stages and the points jersey in his grand tour debut at the 2019 Giro d’Italia, and won two stages in the 2020 Vuelta a España.
So with Tour squads only packing eight starters, the question begs: is there enough room on Bora-Hansgrohe to bring Sagan, its growing fleet of GC contenders and mixed-terrain stage-hunters, and a pure sprinter like Ackermann?
Team boss Ralph Denk is keeping his options open in 2021.
“We will keep the door wide open,” Denk said. “It could be an option with one of those guys, it could be open with both.
“There are eight sprints in this year’s Tour de France and I think it’s necessary for us that we go with a sprinter,” Denk said. “We do not have a bank guarantee in our lineup. The sprint is important this year, and both Peter and Pascal are on the long list for the Tour. We will see how the first part of the season is run.”
After missing the classics in 2020 to race the rescheduled Giro d’Italia for the first time, Sagan said he’s putting a renewed emphasis on the northern classics. And with a Flanders world championships course on tap in the fall, plus the Olympic Games in the middle, Sagan suggested that a Tour start for him is not necessarily guaranteed.
“We will have to see what is my schedule,” Sagan said. “I have a schedule from now until the classics. After that, we will have to see what I’m going to do and we will see. We will decide. It’s a very important year with the Olympic Games and the world championships, which could be good.”
Denk confirmed that both Sagan and Ackermann are on the team’s Tour long-list that includes 14 names, and stressed that the team is keeping its options open for the Tour.
With eight fast finishes expected, sprinters will take center stage in the 2021 Tour. And it’s no secret that Ackermann is among the fastest men in the bunch. Sagan, who is not a pure sprinter, struggled in the 2020 Tour against the fast men like Bennett and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), and left the Tour without a stage win or the green jersey for the first time of his career in any of the Tours he’s finished.
Ackermann will have a busy spring calendar — assuming there are no schedule disruptions caused by the coronavirus — and will start his first Milano-Sanremo. He will also tip-toe into the Belgian classics for the first time, riding in a handful of races including Gent-Wevelgem, but not one of the monuments.
“I am happy with how my 2020 season went. Even with the changes in the calendar, I got eight wins on the books,” Ackermann said. “Right now, I am not too worried about what grand tours I am racing. I want to have a good start to the season, and start winning races again.”
Ackermann could be controlling his own fate. A hot start to 2021 could see him punching his ticket for his Tour debut.
Early 2021 schedule for Pascal Ackermann
- Vuelta a Valenciana (SPA) — February 3-7
- Clásica de Almería (SPA) — February 14
- UAE Tour — February 21-27
- Paris-Nice (FRA) — March 7-14
- Milano-Sanremo (ITA) — March 20
- Belgian classics (won’t be racing any monuments)
- Grand tour calendar to be determined, based on results and fitness