Fabio Jakobsen returns to the peloton at the Tour of Turkey on Sunday after eight months away from racing, and said on Friday that he's looking forward to getting used to the life of a professional cyclist again.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep sprinter will make his long-awaited return to racing at the 2.Pro event, lining up alongside fellow sprinters Mark Cavendish and Álvaro Hodeg for the Belgian team. After undergoing a long physical and mental rehabilitation process following his Tour de Pologne crash, the eight-day race will serve as something of a test event for Jakobsen.
In a virtual pre-race press conference, the 24-year-old spoke about how he felt a mixture of emotions ahead of his return to racing, with some nerves at being back in the bunch mixed with excitement to finally join his teammates back on the road.
"I think I'll try to be a normal bike rider on the team. I feel a bit like a neo-professional now," he said. "For someone who has been out of competition for several months it's always a little bit exciting and scary, and you're a little bit nervous. I think it will be nice to be back in the bunch and get used to the flow.
"Of course, it's going to be a little bit dangerous also, but that's bike racing, and I'll have to get back the trust that I can do it. I also have to trust the racing and trust my colleagues and competitors again.
"My goal is to help the team and finish all eight days and get used to the life of a professional again – the racing, recovery, eating, get the whole system used to bike racing again, which is something that isn't the same as normal life. I'm here to get used to the life of a pro cyclist again.
"For sure, I'll be in the bunch in the final kilometre for the first time. In the past, I could do it so I hope I can still do that. In the beginning, it won't be as easy or as smooth as it was before, but I think with time it will grow."
The first goal for Jakobsen, though, will be making it to the finish each day. He hasn't raced since Dylan Groenewegen – about whom he didn't answer questions – veered across the road in Katowice, sending him ploughing into the barriers and starting the long process of surgeries and rehabilitation which has brought him to start his 2021 season in mid-April.
He hopes to be able to help his teammates in the finals of a possible four of five sprint stages at the race, but there's no pressure on him straight away, with the team monitoring how he reacts to being back in the thick of the action again.
"I'm curious to find out what the reaction of my body and brain will be," Jakobsen said. "It's step by step, so you can't expect that I'm going to be the same as I was before on the first sprint stage, and we'll see how I respond in a hectic sprint or final and why I respond like that.
"From then on, we make a plan again because being back to racing is one thing but to win again is a whole another step and the team helps me with that. I don't feel any pressure, but I'd like to try and see what happens to me.
"The base is alright and now it's about working towards the last 10-15 per cent. It's hard to do at home because we need races to improve. That's what I'm here for now – to get that balance and get that momentum again and hopefully build towards bigger races at the end of the year."
'To really be able to help I'll need to make it to the finish line'
Of course, there is still some uncertainty about what Jakobsen will be able to do in Turkey after such a long spell away from racing. Jakobsen said that the team's goal is to win with Cavendish as the lead sprinter. He said he's more than happy to help, though reflected on the possibility that he may initially struggle.
"We're here with Cavendish and I think the goal of the team is to win a stage with him here. I'm more than happy to help and I look forward to it," he said. "I won't mind being a lead-out for him because I respect his palmarès and I think he's the best sprinter in the history of cycling.
"I think in the first sprint we'll do I'll be helping him. I'll only sprint if I can win, and right now I don't think that's the case. My body still has to get used to racing, so it could also be that when we reach the final 10km my legs are a bit empty, or my focus is a bit gone because everything has to build again. I think in the beginning it's up to other guys. To really be able to help I'll need to make it to the finish line.
While Jakobsen will soon be back racing, the recovery process from the crash in Poland is still ongoing. He suffered a laundry list of injuries after hitting the barrier headfirst, including a crushed palate, the loss of several teeth, and serious head trauma.
The consequences of those are still felt – Jakobsen showed a largely toothless smile during the press conferences – and he still has several procedures and check-ups ahead of him.
"I still have to do a couple of check-ups for the vocal cord which was paralysed," he said. "My left vocal cord was stuck in the middle and right now it's moving again as you can hear. But what we want to see is with maximum effort on the bike, the vocal cord has to go all the way to the outside for air to come in. That still has to be monitored.
"I still have to go back [to fix] my teeth because right now I'm missing five on the top and five on the bottom. In three or four months the bone and implants should be healed strong enough for implant teeth to go in. Until summer I won't have teeth, but those are the last two big rehabilitation points. Of course, after that, it's about trying to get back to top shape as a rider."
A schedule after Turkey has not yet been detailed by Jakobsen or his team – though the 4 Jours de Dunkerque in early May was mentioned – he hopes to end the season with a win, wherever he ends up racing.
"First things first we have to get through the week in Turkey, do a couple of bunch sprints with the team, and see how my body responds. Then we'll make a plan with the team," he said.
"In my mind, I've already won a couple of races, but my body has to work together with me. I'm not 100 per cent sure, but my trainer says the old Fabio is still in there and I can sometimes feel in training that it's going well. But training and racing is different. I hope to win a race. Let's say I'm 50 per cent sure I can win a race and the other 50 per cent is not so sure."
Fabio Jakobsen returns to racing at the Presidential Tour of Turkey, which runs from April 11-18. He'll race alongside Mark Cavendish, Álvaro Hodeg, Iljo Keisse, Shane Archbold, and Stijn Steels for Deceuninck-QuickStep. Cyclingnews will have the latest news and reports from the race as it happens.
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