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Ackermann recovers to land Classic triumph on The Mall

Pascal Ackermann bounced back from a mid-race crash to win the sixth Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic on a borrowed bike after a thrilling race through pouring rain brought the curtain down on the capital’s two-day celebration of cycling.

The German champion outsprinted Italian Maestro Elia Viviana on The Mall to take his third WorldTour win of the year after nearly five hours of frantic racing over the rain-drenched roads of London and Surrey.

Wearing his national colours for the first time, Ackermann was determined to make his nation proud in the British capital, but the 24-year-old had to draw on his well-drilled Bora-Hansgrohe teammates to keep his hopes alive after crashing on the greasy country lanes of the Surrey Hills some 80km from home.

Grabbing a teammate’s bike, Ackermann dragged himself back to the pack and moved to the head of the race to take on many of the best sprinters in the world. But despite the close attentions multi-grand tour stage winners, Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel, it was he and Viviani who emerged to contest the final metres.

Viviani made his move to Ackermann’s left, but the German had worked too hard to fail now and crossed the line with a bike length to spare and a roar of delight on his face.

“My team did an amazing job today because I crashed in the middle of the race and they had to get me back to the peloton,” said Ackermann. “I had to reward them for that and thankfully I could do it.

“I knew I was in good shape and told my team to get me in a good position. They were 100 per cent behind me and I’m so proud of what they did to give me a chance.

“I wasn’t watching Viviani, I just kept my eyes on the Finish Line and went for the win.”

Viviani won four stages in this year’s Giro d’Italia and was one of the pre-race favourites to win the world’s richest one-day prize. He stalked the front of the pack as the peloton chased down a long breakaway over the final kilometres and looked the most likely winner as they made the final turn off Whitehall and under Admiralty Arch.

But despite the efforts of his impressive Quick-Step lead-out men, Michael Mrkv and Florian Senechal, he just couldn’t catch the flying German.

“This is my first day back after a period of rest and a good month at altitude, so I’m in good shape,” said the 29-year-old. “I’d have liked to win but today Ackermann was faster. 

“It was a really tough day because the wet conditions made the race harder for sure, but staying with the team, we got there. We tried to win and raced to the line but Ackermann was just one bike length in front.”

Third place went to Italy too as Giacomo Nizzolo of Trek-Segafredo emerged between them ahead of Spaniard Ivan Cortina.

As for Cavendish, Britain’s big hope was 12th while Greipel was eighth, one of four Germans in the top 10.

Five hours earlier, that pair of sprinting greats had led the 139 riders away from Horse Guards Parade and out along the damp roads of west London, the morning’s torrential rain wringing itself into a fine shower under London’s heavy skies.

Team Novo Nordisk had promised to take any opportunity to join a breakaway and the squad of diabetes cyclists were true to their word, Briton Sam Brand joining an early mini-move that was swallowed up before they reached Chiswick Bridge.

Novo missed the day’s main break, however, as six got away in East Sheen and raced into Richmond Park, the half-dozen chancers including Caleb Ewan, one of the world’s top sprinters who might have been expected to keep his powder dry for the finish.

The Australian Mitchelton-Scott rider was joined by Manuele Boaro and Valerio Agnoli of Bahrain-Merida, Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise rider Aaron Verwilst, Pawel Piotr Cieslik of CCC Sprandi Polkowice, and Alexis Gougeard of AG2R La Mondiale.

Verwilst took the first sprint points as they cruised into Surrey, with Gougeard second and Agnoli third, while the six worked together to open a gap that grew to more than seven minutes by the time they hit Walton-on-Thames, the peloton content to let them have their moment in the drizzle.

Such a big early break is part of Classic tradition by now, the moves invariably swept up by the time they reach the Surrey climbs of Leith Hill and Box Hill. This was no different, as slowly and surely the pack reeled them in down the narrow country lanes, Ackermann’s Bora-Hansgrohe team doing the bulk of the work.

By now rising wind was playing havoc in the trees above their heads, with some fallen branches playing havoc on the road, forcing the chasing pack to watch its line.

It didn’t hold them up, though, as the Bora boys whittled the lead to less than five minutes by the time they raced over the first serious ascent at Staple Lane, by which time Ewan had slipped back.

Gougeard took the first Continental Tyres King of the Mountain points and went on to win the overall KoM title, although Verwilst edged him into second over the canopied climb of Leith Hill and the first shift up Ranmore Common.

Despite the treacherous conditions, the bunch were now racing at some 40km an hour and the gap began to shrink at increasing speed.

Such an aggressive race seemed perfect for Bora’s top Briton Peter Kennaugh who was now showing towards the front of the bunch. Just as a mass catch looked inevitable, a select six escaped from the chasers on the second stretch up Ranmore, Kennaugh, Sunweb’s Michael Matthews and Team Sky’s Owain Doull among them.

They finally reached the leaders with almost 65km to go and the crucial climb up Box Hill to come. A 10-strong group approached the famous slopes a minute ahead of the peloton, but with 50km of serious racing still to go, that was never going to be enough.

Kennaugh did his best to stay away, briefly attacking off the summit before a crash ended his and Matthews’ hopes, leaving six clear as the London-bound train steamed through Leatherhead, Oxshott, Esher and on to Kingston upon Thames on the outskirts of the capital, the streets still awash with late afternoon rain.

This famously tough run-in finally spelt the end for Boaro, who had the compensation of winning the Continental Tyres Sprints title.

The remaining five, still including Doull and the incredible Agnoli, held a stubborn 30-second gap that came down to 10 as they sped through Wimbledon village with 15km left.

Agnoli had been out front for more than 150km and at last his day was done. But Doull had more to give and attacked again, taking Nathan Haas of Katusha Alpecin, Mitchelton-Scott’s Chris Juul-Jensen, and Kennaugh’s teammate Jay McCarthy with him.

These four tailed each other over Putney Bridge and on to the north bank of the River Thames but the big teams were piling on the pressure behind. The catch finally came on Millbank with 6.5km to go.

Now it was all about the sprint and Sky began to amass their forces yet again at the head of the race, shadowed by Sunweb, Lotto Soudal and Quick-Step Floors.

But it was Bora who led the field into The Mall and Ackermann who made the most of his chance, holding off Viviani for the greatest win of his young career.

“It is a really important victory for me because all the world’s good sprinters were here,” he said. “It was important for me to show what I can do.

“It’s my first victory since winning the German championships and I was really proud to win wearing the national jersey.

“It’s my third WorldTour win this year but this is the most important one so far. It is an amazing course and an amazing race. I’ll definitely be back in London to do it again.”