The evocatively-titled Avenida dos Descobrimentos in Lagos owes its name to the town's past as a shipbuilding hub during the Portuguese Age of Discovery, and the harbourfront boulevard hosted the finish of stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve, where Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) suggested that his winter preparation has been watertight by winning on his first race day of the new season.
A reduced leading group contested the sprint finish in Lagos after a crash split the peloton with a shade over seven kilometres remaining, but Jakobsen never gave the impression of navigating troubled waters. In the finishing straight, he watched as Simone Consonni (UAE Team Emirates) floundered after opening the sprint from distance, and then cruised past at a considerable rate of knots to claim the honours.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) took second on the stage ahead of Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), but neither man ever looked like overhauling Jakobsen once he hit the front within sight of the line. The Dutchman notched up seven wins as a neo-professional last year, including a breakout win at Scheldeprijs, but he is off the mark almost a full month earlier this time around.
"This is the best start you can have, I think," Jakobsen said afterwards. "I did a good winter, I trained with the team and that was a lot of fun. I had good support at home from my family and the team. I'm very grateful to start the season with a win.
"After training all the winter, you never really know how good you are, but if you can win a sprint here, I think that shows that you did a good winter. The team also is in good shape and we are very happy with this."
His team clocked up some 73 wins in 2018 and has begun the new campaign in a similar vein, with wins in Australia, Argentina, Colombia and France in recent weeks. Jakobsen, for his part, was on a training camp in the Algarve earlier this month and availed of the opportunity to reconnoitre his first race of the season.
"We had a training camp here and we did a recon of this stage. It was quite hard with a small climb at the end, but all the guys were perfect, they put me in the perfect position to launch my sprint and I'm very happy to win this stage," said Jakobsen, who had tasted victory on the final day of his 2018 season at the Tour of Guangxi.
The 22-year-old was well-piloted by Zdenek Stybar and Florian Sénéchal on the on the technical run-in towards Lagos and avoided running aground in the crash that removed John Degenkolb from contention for the sprint and also saw his Trek-Segafredo teammate Jasper Stuyven sustain cuts and bruises.
"I didn't see anything, I only heard it," Jakobsen said. "It was a big crash, it happened to the left of me. I hope the guys are OK, because the speed was quite high but it's a race and it can happen. It's not supposed to happen, but we all know it can happen."
Jakobsen will wear the yellow jersey of race leader into stage 2 and while he will surely lose that garment on the slopes of the Alto do Fóia, Saturday’s finale in Tavira ought to provide him with an early opportunity to add to his running tally for the new year.
"We are here with the team with two goals – no, three goals actually – to win sprint stages, to do good on GC with Enric Mas, and also the guys want to perform in the time trial on Friday," Jakobsen said. "We want to race more this week. We had a lot of fun in training around here so I’m looking forward to the next stages."
Fernando Gaviria's departure for UAE Team Emirates has inevitably nudged Jakobsen upwards in the depth chart of Deceuninck-QuickStep sprinters, with perhaps only Elia Viviani ranked above him. It is unclear if Jakobsen will make his Grand Tour debut in 2019 – Viviani is pencilled in for the Giro and Tour – but the more immediate stops on his voyage are leadership roles at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Paris-Nice.
"I will do some races in Belgium and I will go to Paris-Nice," Jakobsen said, "but first the goal is to do a good week here in Algarve. On Saturday, in the next sprint, I want to perform again."
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