As if the the race demands repeat winners, Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) captured his second Scheldeprijs victory in a row on Wednesday afternoon. The Dutch ace still has a lot of work on his plate to come level with Marcel Kittel, who won five times between 2012 and 2017.
"It's such an amazing list, the Scheldeprijs. If you look back in the years, all the big sprinters won races here. Most of them are multiple times on the list. I'm just really happy that now I'm also two times on the list," Jakobsen said.
Starting the Scheldeprijs with a bib no. 1 pinned on your back puts a lot of pressure on one's shoulders. Jakobsen, still only 22 years of age, didn't mind at all. "I look at it differently. I think that if you start with number 1 and you have the pressure, then that's what you do it for. We train for this, we work for this. It motivates me even more that I can do the sprint, that I can go for the victory. That's what I dream about. That's what I put all the hours of training in for. It's not really pressure, but motivation and a good feeling," Jakobsen said.
Long before the sprint, Jakobsen was part of a crash in the first peloton. In hindsight, he was able to laugh over the incident, but at the time he was forced to chase hard to get back in the group.
"There was a bit of headwind. I don't know why, maybe there was money on the ground, but suddenly they were on the ground; they hooked into each other. I was unable to brake fast enough, and they rode into me from behind. Luckily, I was able to continue my race, but I soon found out that my front fork was broken. I quickly switched bikes," Jakobsen said.
In the sprint, Jakobsen said everything went according to plan. "I was focusing on the wheel of Michael [Morkov]. I realized that we were going really fast because there were very few riders moving up. At 500 metres I put the chain on the eleven and figured that if there would be a gap at 200 metres, I would start sprinting until the finish line."
The Scheldeprijs is regarded as a classic for the sprinters but the race isn't part of the WorldTour, and that showed in the quality of the starting field. It's hard to call this race the sprinter's festival that it has been before in the past. Jakobsen didn't mind.
"I never fear anybody. I know that the team is strong and that I have a good sprint. I'm focused on doing my job. I just see at the finish line if I'm the fastest," Jakobsen said.
Ten days earlier, Jakobsen was also present in Gent-Wevelgem but that race that suits classic riders with fast legs like eventual winner Alexander Kristoff (UAE), wasn't such a success for the Dutch rider. During the first echelon battles, Deceuninck-QuickStep ended up being forced to chase the crucial move that included Peter Sagan, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. Jakobsen and Maximiliano Richeze worked hard to close the gap but they blew up their engine and were forced to quit the race early on. Deceuninck-QuickStep probably lacked the numbers to control the sprint in Wevelgem and Elia Viviani got boxed in during the chaotic final few hundred metres.
Jakobsen pointed out that he was the wrong man in the wrong place in Gent-Wevelgem. "I felt good in Gent-Wevelgem but it was a hard race and I worked for the team. I'm not a domestique. I'm a good bike rider but not the best domestique. I just work hard and as a sprinter, I can focus on the end. That's my job," Jakobsen said.
"Today I really wanted to win. Since Paris-Nice, I was working for the team. If you''re part of Deceuninck-QuickStep then you know that you''re not the only leader or the only sprinter. I did my job but I was happy that today I could do my own sprint, to race for the victory. I'm really happy that it worked out."
Last month, team manager Patrick Lefevere and Jakobsen agreed on a contract extension. Jakobsen was very pleased with that deal. "It means that the team has a lot of confidence in my abilities. I'm really happy that I'm part of this team. Maybe we didn't win Flanders or Wevelgem but we won a lot of races. There's a good atmosphere in the team. Everybody fights and everybody works hard. I think that is wat this sport is about. You can't win all the races. We're not the only team that is losing. Alaphilippe won again, I win now. It's over again."
When asked if he dreamed of becoming a rider for the Classics, Jakobsen clearly knew that there were limits to his abilities. "I want to keep on sprinting. Maybe in a few years if I'm strong enough. Last year, I was in a room with Niki Terpstra. He's a guy for the classics and I'm a sprinter. I know the difference. Probably, it would be too hard for me to do those races. I focus on sprinting and getting stronger. Maybe, someday in the future. I'm not focusing on that," Jakobsen said.
Coming into this year's edition of the Scheldeprijs, Jakobsen was in a different mindset than in 2018. Back then, he had just captured a nice win in Nokere Koerse and then added the surprise win at the Scheldeprijs in Schoten. This year, Jakobsen started his season with a win at the Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta but then he started struggling.
"I feel that I am a year stronger, but when you're a year stronger and you're not in top shape… I think I was not as good as I was last year with less strength but more top shape," Jakobsen said. "Last year, at the Scheldeprijs, I also won my second race. When you're an athlete, you know that you balance on the edge of getting sick, or being in top shape. I got a small virus after the Algarve. Compared to someone in the hospital, it's nothing. When you’re a professional athlete, then one or two percent is a lot. I struggled in Paris-Nice. I missed the 'opening weekend'. Now I feel that the condition is building again and I'm getting the good feeling back. I miss the spring a little bit but now I look forward to the rest of the season. I’ll keep on building on my form and shape," Jakobsen said.
Jakobsen won the 107th edition of the Scheldeprijs by a few bike lengths over his first rivals, Maximilian Walscheid (Sunweb) and Christopher Lawless (Sky). He made it look like an easy victory. Jakobsen probably agreed but tried to find the words to explain why that was.
"The team makes it easy. I know that I have a strong sprint and I noticed in training that I was going well the last few days. The guys did an amazing job. This is a team where we always fight for the win. From 10km to go, the whole team was there. They just did a perfect job and I could do a perfect sprint. It looks easy but it's perfect work from everyone."
A key figure in that team, according to Jakobsen, was Danish rider Michael Morkov. The 33-year-old rider is more than just the lead-out man for Jakobsen. During the first part of the race, the echelons ripped the peloton apart and Deceuninck-QuickStep was often outnumbered by the Bora-Hansgrohe team in the first echelon. Jakobsen said he never panicked.
"Today, the first part was nervous. Small roads, big roads, high speed. The first 100 kilometres I was never out of the first echelon. You know that if you race in the Netherlands with this wind, then you can never lose focus. There can be one kilometre with headwind, then a right turn and you can be dropped into the third or fourth echelon. You have to be focused. That's important in a race like this," Jakobsen said.
When asked how he felt when his teammates were missing out in the first echelon, Jakobsen said he understood. "There's only room for 20 riders in the top-20. There's never going to be seven guys of your team in the top-20. You stay calm and you know that in the last 60 kilometres, usually it comes back because there's more forest and it’s not open anymore. You just keep calm. If you’ve got a guys like Michael Morkov who can really keep calm in a race like this. He commands or rather gives good advice to everyone and everybody listens. It comes back together. Michael does a perfect job in keeping me out of the wind and making room for me. I just follow him in the last 5 kilometres. He’s strong. He’s one of the best lead-out men in the world,” Jakobsen said.
Jakobsen was happy that he was able to get a big win during the spring classics because for him, there’s no more one-day races for a while. “For me, the Spring is over. I go to Turkey and California and I would like to win some more bunch sprints. Then I’ll work towards the national championships,” Jakobsen said. A journalist asked him if he would race the Vuelta. The race profile doesn't offer too many chances for the sprinters and Jakobsen clearly was well aware of that when he answered. "Maybe. Hopefully not," Jakobsen said before realizing he shouldn’t say that out loud. "I'm joking."