Less than one week ago, QuickStep-AlphaVinyl boss Patrick Lefevere said that it was doubtful that Fabio Jakobsen would race Milan-San Remo. But just in case, Jakobsen left Paris-Nice and drove an hour down the coast to Sanremo to preview the final 60 kilometres.
It turned out to be a wise decision because he got the call-up on Wednesday when World Champion Julian Alaphilippe came down with bronchitis.
Jakobsen, 25, has been the on-form sprinter of the season so far, taking seven victories in 18 days of racing. That he is even a professional cyclist today is a miracle of modern medicine and perseverance. Jakobsen took a moment out of the pre-race virtual press conference to recognise that, after his near-death crash in the Tour of Poland in 2020, he is lucky to be racing at all much less starting one of the sport's biggest one-day races.
"It's special. And it makes me lost for words sometimes because I'm just enjoying being a pro cyclist again and I went step by step. I had a good winter and then you can build up and race San Remo. It's one of the races that, as a sprinter, you would dream about and is something you want to train for and prepare for.
"To be here, it's just amazing and for sure, I will be enjoying it - probably not when we hit the Cipressa or Poggio, but in between, I'll be happy on the bike, and that I'm able to race here and try to make something of my first Monument."
Milan-San Remo was supposed to be a goal for Jakobsen in the future, but with much of the peloton falling ill with various viruses, he will make his Monument debut on Saturday among a peloton missing many of its favourites. Gone are last year's winner Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), 2019 winner Alaphilippe, two-time runner-up Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) while others like Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) are racing at less than full strength.
"Nobody wants to get sick. It's not that we need to go to the hospital or that we are in bed all day but some guys do get a fever of above 38 degrees (C). And that's possibly devastating for your shape," Jakobsen said.
"We are building for three, four months to get here. And then if you get a small virus infection in the airways or the stomach flu some guys have, then all that preparation is - not gone - but let's say the last 3-4 per cent you need to be at your best, you lose it."
All eyes are on Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) who were, at last check, healthy and taking turns destroying their rivals.
Jakobsen is hoping that the race can come back together for a bunch sprint, where he will have his best chance, but after previewing the Capi climbs and hearing expectations that Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates could try to shake the sprinters before the Cipressa, he knows it will be a fight to stay in the bunch and still have something left to sprint after almost 300km of racing.
"You just need to get through to the Via Roma the first group, and then launch your sprint and just see what is in the legs. I would love to tell you that I can sprint after 290k, but to be honest, I have no idea," he said.
"I don't think I've ever been on the bike for more than seven hours. I think my longest training and longest race ever are six hours... But a one-day race is something different. You can empty everything. And I guess we will see tomorrow when we enter Sanremo."
Surviving the climbs
After his reconnaissance last Sunday, Jakobsen expects that he will have a better sense of his chances when the race hits the three 'capi' - a trio of coastal climbs that come between 240 and 255km into the race.
"I would say the Capo Berta is the hardest of the climbs in terms of percentage. We will feel the legs there for sure. And if you don't feel them then you'll probably have a good shot at winning San Remo. The Cipressa is a bit steeper and a bit longer than the Poggio but sometimes the race locks up there a bit and the road is wider than the Poggio.
"The Cipressa, we spend around 10 minutes [climbing] there, and it will be a nasty pace. Hard. But if you have a good day and good legs, I think I should be able to stay in the group. Then it's just positioning towards the Poggio and seeing what you can push there for around five minutes.
"Normally with the shape I have and the power I can push I should be able to do it. But it's a whole other game after 270 or 280 kilometres. I think I have a chance. I would say it's 50-50 depending on my shape, and depending on the race situation, what are other teams or the riders are doing.
"I think in terms of condition and the previous years I have never been at a better form and level than I am now. So if it's not for tomorrow then it was never possible in my career before."
Jakobsen is taking heart from the slew of bunch-sprint finishes at Milan-San Remo while recognising that the last rider to win one of them was Arnaud Démare in 2016. If there is going to be a sprint for the victory, he wants to be in it.
"It's not every year a bunch sprint, but if you are not there and there is a bunch sprint, then you know you're at home on the couch feeling sorry.
"It is my first Monument and also the Monument where I have probably in the future the biggest chance at a win or a result or a podium. And yeah, who thought one and a half years ago that I would be here now?"
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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