Even the most determinedly neutral of observers would have had a hard time staying un-moved when sprinter Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) raised his arms in victory no fewer than three times last year in the Vuelta a España. In 2022, he is set to make his debut in the Tour de France.
The Dutchman's hat-trick of Spanish triumphs, as well as his points jersey win, could easily be described as life-affirming, given they were his first Grand Tour wins following his dramatic near-fatal accident in the 2020 Tour de Pologne.
Jakobsen said at the time the wins marked the end of one chapter of his career and the start of another, and certainly the victory congratulations he received from sprinting rivals and friends alike on the finish lines across Spain confirmed them all as memorable moments.
Regardless of that past, the opening pages of the next chapter of his career will be the Classics this spring, Jakobsen told a small group of journalists during the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team camp. The double Scheldeprijs winner will be looking to renew a success story that was fractured in 2020, followed by completely new terrain at the Tour de France.
"First of all I want to ride the Spring races, because I've missed two seasons, first with the start of coronavirus like everybody else and then of course in 2021 because I was still recovering from my crash."
"I'd like to win again in the spring, in Belgian races and at Paris-Nice. I'll do Valencia and then Algarve, followed by Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and hopefully Gent-Wevelgem, De Panne and Scheldeprijs."
"Then in April I'll take a short break and build up to the Tour de France."
All of these represent further steps back into the fray after 2021, but Jakobsen says that the satisfaction and joy he experienced at winning in the Vuelta a España remain a key part of his renewed confidence in his sprints.
"Of course. I've been at the bottom, not way at the bottom but just above, so I realise what I had and what I almost lost. So to live life as a professional cyclist and go for that win, together with my teammates, is one of the most beautiful things you can do in your life and you just enjoy.
"That was always there, but when you've almost lost it, it's even bigger. I think I'll be standing with that smile at the start of every race and at the end of every chance there is for a sprinter.
"But sometimes, you know, the journey is better than the result."
Asked if it was harder to forget the Pologne crash or to build his form again, Jakobsen permitted himself a wry smile, before commenting.
"Forgetting the crash was easy because I don't remember anything from it. The only thing to deal with it was the way back. I came from near zero and every step you take is a way forward. It was not always nice, but I did enjoy the bigger steps: first race, first win and then to end the Vuelta like that… it was step-by-step back to being a top sprinter.
"I did not need to forget, just try to cope with it and analyse what I could do to get back. Not only as a cyclist but also as a person. I always say I got ten years wiser in a year because you value things differently if you have been close to the end."
Reports of the continuing uncertainty hanging over teammate Mark Cavendish's participation in the Tour de France were corroborated by a separate interview Jakobsen had given to Belgian and Dutch media, in which he was quoted as saying that the Briton will be racing the Giro d'Italia and then was "a reserve" for the Tour de France. But Jakobsen is expecting to be taking part in the Tour, something he had been guaranteed by team boss Patrick Lefevere back after the Vuelta 2021.
"As a young kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old, it's something you dream about and you never know if it's possible," he said. "So when I think about that kid and that he's able to make it to the start line [of the Tour] is very special.
"Now, to be able to say that I am going to try to win a sprint stage motivates me a lot and I'm happy that the team put their confidence in me to do it. That's the big goal of next year. After two Vueltas that were successful, we're taking another step up and trying to win in France."
His memories of previous spectacular sprint victories by other riders in the Tour de France bring him back to his British teammate.
"Last year me and Cavendish were both kind of on the comeback trail together and there's one victory of his that I'll always remember quite well, " he said. "When he was at HTC and he did that 'phone gesture' when he won [in 2009 - Ed.]. It was so typical [of him and] normally you don't see anybody do it.
"Of course, he's won a lot of times, but if you ask me about which one, that's the one I remember."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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