If Fabio Jakobsen’s first stage at this Vuelta a España marked the end of his comeback from the life-threatening injuries he sustained at last year’s Tour de Pologne, then his second victory in La Manga del Mar Menor on Saturday was perhaps a portent of things still to come.
The Dutchman unfurled a searing sprint on the seaside spit to claim an emphatic victory over Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), moving back into the green jersey in the process.
Jakobsen has now matched his tally of stage wins from 2019, when he landed the sprint finale in Madrid. This time out, the Vuelta concludes with a time trial in Santiago de Compostela, but the Deceunick-QuickStep rider still has designs on mounting the podium on the final evening of the race as winner of the points classification, where Philipsen, 16 points behind, looks his most obvious rival.
“I think as a sprinter, you want to wear the green jersey,” said Jakobsen. “We all saw at the Tour de France, where Cavendish won four stages and he won the green jersey. That’s a huge motivation and inspiration for me. I’m happy to be in the green jersey. I’m a sprinter, and it’s for the sprinters, so I’m very happy with that.”
It remains to be seen if Cavendish will remain at Deceuninck-QuickStep in 2022, though manager Patrick Lefevere wrote in his column in Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday morning that the Manxman would stay put provided he did not “overestimate his market value in the euphoria of the Tour.”
It is clear, however, that Jakobsen represents the team’s sprint future, particularly with Sam Bennett and Alvaro Hodeg both certain to leave Deceuninck-QuickStep at the end of this season. Lefevere demonstrated his confidence in Jakobsen by offering him a two-year contract extension shortly after his return to the peloton.
On the evidence of this Vuelta, the investment looks a sound one. Or, as Lefevere wrote on Saturday morning: “Give Fabio the lead-out that Mark Cavendish had in the Tour, and he would already have won three stages in the Vuelta.”
Jakobsen and the fast men will find their opportunities to chase stage victories diminish in the latter part of this race, but he will look to emulate Cavendish by carrying the green jersey through the high mountains. It’s all part of the game and all a testing ground for a future contesting the same prize at the Tour de France.
“The second part of being a sprinter is suffering through the mountains,” said Jakobsen, who finished in the last group on the road on Friday’s stage to Balcón de Alicante, just over half an hour down. “Those are hardest days of the Vuelta for me. The sprints aren’t easy, but for sure tomorrow and the next days will be hard in the climbs.
“But I know I can make it. I just have to stay hard, eat and drink, and make it to the finish line within the time limit. I’ve been fighting every day here.”
All winter and spring, of course, Jakobsen was fighting simply to be a bike rider again. There may have been a greater outpouring of emotion in the aftermath of his victory earlier in the week, but his teammates were still marvelling at his resilience over the past year after his latest triumph in La Manga.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it? It’s hard to imagine coming back from what he came from,” James Knox said. “I think he said all along his plan was to win one race this year, and now here he is a the Vuelta with two stage wins, amazing.”
Jakobsen, in turn, paid tribute to his teammates, with a special mention for Florian Sénéchal. The Frenchman is a key element in Jakobsen’s lead-out train here, but his most important support of all came in the finishing straight in Katowice last August.
“Florian has a special place in my heart,” Jakobsen said. “He was one of first people on the scene after my crash. He helped to save my life and it’s super special that he’s here taking care of me in bunch sprints. We have a strong connection and I’ll be thankful to Florian for the rest of my life.”
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