Each time the Dutchman was called to the dais to receive bouquets and the congratulations of local politicians – as stage winner, new race leader and best young rider – his smile was as wide and his reaction as exuberant as the last. His team, it seems, has not yet tired of winning.
Jakobsen’s victory was Quick-Step Floors’ 72nd of the 2018 season, setting a new record for a team managed by Patrick Lefevere. In 2000, Lefevere’s Mapei squad amassed the seemingly insurmountable tally of 71 victories, particularly given that the roster then carried some 43 riders.
Alvaro Hodeg equalled the Mapei mark at the Tour of Turkey last week. On arriving in China at the weekend, Jakobsen pledged to his manager that he would do his utmost to secure the record. After falling short in bunch sprints in Beihai and Qinzhou on the opening two days in Guangxi, the youngster made no mistake on the city centre circuit in Nanning.
"It’s cool, eh? That’s one that can go into the history books," Jakobsen said.
"I’d already sent Lefevere a message saying that I wanted to break the record, and now I’ve done it. And it’s amazing for everyone on the team who worked hard for all the races to win. And in the end, we all broke the record."
Quick-Step’s glut of victories began with an Elia Viviani stage win at the Tour Down Under in January and continued unabated thereafter, with triumphs coming from all quarters. The contribution of a pair of neo-professional sprinters – Jakobsen and Hodeg – was particularly notable.
Jakobsen only turned 22 last month, but this was his sixth win of the season, a tally that includes Scheldeprijs and a stage at the BinckBank Tour. It is rare for a rider of such youth to be handed such responsibility – not least on a team with so many established winners – but he insisted that leadership was never a burden.
"It’s not because anybody is putting pressure on me," Jakobsen said. "The directeur sportif here said, ‘Fabio, you are allowed to win; you don’t have to win’. I was focused on winning because I want to win. Cycling is about winning. Sometimes when you are young, you put pressure on yourself, but the team is really lowering that pressure: ‘Fabio, take it easy, you’re only 22, you have a long career ahead. Try to learn’. So the pressure is not on from the team but more from myself, I think."
Trust the team in the sprint
Jakobsen had two slightly discordant sprints on the opening two days at the Tour of Guangxi, placing third behind Dylan Groenewegen on stage 1 and second to Pascal Ackermann a day later. The results at least proved that he could still carry a tune at this late point in the season, and he hit all of the right notes in the sprint on stage 3, where he was conducted by teammate Davide Martinelli.
"It was so hectic on the first two days, and when I lost my teammates, I thought I had to do it on my own, but that’s not the right way. It’s still my first year so sometimes I get a bit nervous and I don’t follow the team. Today I trusted them and it worked out. For the future, I should remember this race," said Jakobsen.
"Today I just followed Martinelli. He said, ‘Come on Fabio, believe in me'. He put me on the wheel of the three other sprinters – Ackerman, [Max] Walscheid and Groenewegen – so I could pass them. I know I’m fast but to pass them was amazing."
Despite a sprint stable that also includes Viviani, Hodeg, Fernando Gaviria and Max Richeze, Jakobsen has not lacked opportunities in 2018. It remains to be seen if the squad will have the budget to maintain all of its fast men next year, and Gaviria has been linked with a possible switch to UAE Team Emirates.
Jakobsen, for his part, will certainly remain in situ on Lefevere’s team, which will operate as Deceuninck-QuickStep in 2019.
"Nobody knows the budget, eh?" Jakobsen smiled. "Only Lefevere and [CFO Geert] Coemen know, but they do well. I’m really happy that Lefevere has found a sponsor, Deceuninck, because now we can still do what we do best and what we like to do – and that’s continue cycling and win races."
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