By Gregor Brown
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) completed his "fastest 20 kilometres ever" and practically locked up the points classification jersey, finishing second in the Giro d'Italia's 19th stage to Santa Maria di Sala.
The peloton sped into the Veneto town, but not fast enough to pull back the remaining escapee Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizane). Cima won the sprint ahead of Ackermann, who has already claimed victory in two stages earlier in the race.
Initially, Ackermann believed only a stage win would secure him leadership in the points classification.
"I thought, I was just second and I was disappointed, the whole team worked for me and they did an amazing job. I hope they are not too f**ked now because really I think it was the fastest 20km I ever did," Ackermann said. "Then we realised we got the jersey back, and now I'm very happy."
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) lost the maglia ciclamino by finishing eighth. The purple jersey is now back on the German champion's shoulders, and it could be there for good. However, nothing is for sure.
"I don't think it's won yet because we've seen Démare is really strong and he can also climb really well," Ackermann added. "We kept fighting and for sure he will keep fighting for it now."
Only two mountain stages remain and a time trial on Sunday in Verona. It is nearly impossible for sprinter Démare, the 2016 winner of the Milan-San Remo, to escape and get enough points in the intermediate sprints in the coming Alpine stages.
"It's a special moment to get this jersey back. It's not won because there are still two really hard stages in front of us, we have to ride them. We are really, really happy that we still have this jersey," Ackermann added, speaking on behalf of himself and the entire team.
"We were counting before that there were 14 points between us and there was a 15-point gap between first and second place, so we thought 'actually we have to win to get the jersey back.' When we had just crossed the finish line and we were thinking, 'S**t it wasn't enough' but then later we got the message that we had the jersey."
Ackermann now leads the competition with 226 points, 13 more than his French rival.
"I think there is just tomorrow for him to get it. The first intermediate sprint is the last opportunity to get some points," Ackermann continued. "For sure Démare will keep fighting because he is really strong in the mountains, but we will try to keep it now and we will be really happy if we arrive in Verona with the points jersey."
The intermediate sprint comes 86.6 kilometres into the stage tomorrow after a category three climb.
For Ackermann to finish the Giro d'Italia in the jersey would be a dream scenario. The team selected him over Sam Bennett, who won three stages, to ride his debut grand tour. Now, he has a chance to finish it with two wins and the famed jersey.
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