Ever since his life-threatening crash and injuries in the 2020 Tour de Pologne, Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) has had to handle plenty of 'milestone moments', but starting his first Tour de France this Friday is surely one of the bigger ones.
The 25-year-old all but recognised his Tour de France debut as such in the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl pre-race press conference, where he sat alongside sports director Tom Steels and Kasper Asgreen and the trio discussed the team's prospects this July in Denmark and France.
Asgreen freely admitted that his chances of taking yellow on home soil on Friday's time trial had shrunk considerably since his bad crash and abandon in the Tour de Suisse. But he promised to give it 100 percent nonetheless.
Meanwhile Jakobsen described himself as "excited, but not happy yet" at taking part in the Tour de France, with stage win holding the key to any greater contentment.
Asked directly how he felt to be riding alongside the other top sprinters in the world considering what he had had to overcome since Poland, Jakobsen defined his sensations as a "dream come true," a classic cliché perhaps, but in his case, an utterly logical one.
"I think most cyclists have had something major in their career, there is always a period of rehabilitation if it's a crash or illness. I've had my fair share, maybe a bit more,” he told reporters.
"I'm super happy to be here, but that's not why I got into racing - to be somewhere. I began racing because I want to win.
"So I'm super-excited, but not happy yet, [because] that's what we're going to find out in the next three weeks: if I am able to win in the Tour."
Sports director Tom Steels, who captured multiple flat stages in the Tour de France himself when a racer, added a note of caution by pointing out that even without one or two of the big-name sprinters in the Tour this year, "it will not change a lot. Fabio will still have to be the sharpest of all [the sprinters] to get it and that first win in the Tour is always the most difficult one."
However, he said, he was both confident in the team's ability to engineer a bunch sprint even when lacking their tireless domestique, Tim El Tractor Declercq. The Belgian could not start the racer after testing positive for COVID-19. He is also confident in Jakobsen's ability to be the first across the line.
While Jakobsen did not add anything more to those comments, merely adding that "as I have the least experience of anybody on this table, I will just go along with what Tom says," the Dutchman was much more forthcoming about how he plans to get through the mountain stages without falling outside the time limit.
"You know, if you are the fastest in the last 250 metres of a sprint, you're probably the slowest on the long climbs,” he reasoned.
"That's something you take for granted and I'll have to fight on those days, maybe even more than on the sprint days.
"But I'll have Kasper by my side, I'm hoping he will guide me over the Galibier, Croix de Fer, the Alpe d'Huez..."
"That's easy, I'll just keep pushing," Asgreen interrupted jokingly.
"It is always stressful, but that's part of our sport," Jakobsen concluded in his analysis of how he’ll handle the mountains. "I'm not looking forward to the climbing days and maybe I'll have to fight even harder than on the sprint days. But they're part of the Tour, and if you have to get over all the mountains, making it to Paris becomes even more beautiful."
Asgreen in Copenhagen
Both Jakobsen and Steels, despite the Dutchman winning the points jersey in last year's Vuelta a España, placed the priority of a stage win over starting to fight for the Tour's maillot vert from the word go.
But Asgreen, who had had high hopes of battling for the victory in Friday's opening TT, admitted that his recent crash and injury in the Tour de Suisse would make it all but impossible to fight for his own stage win and yellow in Copenhagen.
"Unfortunately, it's not a realistic goal," the three-times National Time Trial Champion said. "I also had a small setback before Suisse with an illness. But the crash on top of that means I'm not good enough, realistically, to go for that as a goal."
"I took five or six days completely off the bike and since then I've been improving very fast. We're still two days out, so hopefully on Friday I'll be even better than today, and I'm not having any pain or stability issues. So that's also why I'm at the startline. If there were any risks I wouldn't be here."
"But I'm missing out a bit of specific work, even if the base condition was there between Roubaix and Suisse and that's really good."
"It was a bit of a mental kick in the nuts, but you just move on with it and accept that's how it went, refocus my energy into making it on the start line, because it was not even clear I was going to be there."
The Alaphilippe dilemma
While Asgreen's injuries were not finally sufficient to cause him to be a DNS, and no questions were asked about the controversial absence of Mark Cavendish from the 2022 Tour QuickStep-AlphaVinyl lineup, sports director Steels did say that leaving defending World Champion Julian Alaphilippe off the list had represented a major dilemma.
"I think the none-selection for Julian was one of the toughest we had to take, but we also did it specially for Julian himself. Because the Tour is, let's not forget, the hardest stage race in the world. Even if you're 100 percent it's incredibly hard."
"We also wanted to see Julian shine in the other races and not for him go through the Tour with a rainbow jersey that looks like it's been in the washing machine 10 times. So let's not forget he had a horrific crash in Liège, we knew it was very tight to get to the Tour, but he just didn't make it."
"I think he's one hell of a rider, and we just wanted to save him for the rest of the season. But it was one of the toughest decisions we've ever taken in the Tour."
Where Steels was in no doubt though was in his faith in Jakobsen as a racer and his ability to get a Tour stage win.
"From the first training camp when I saw him, I already knew he had a special ability, he just improved and you knew he was the kind of guy who could go to the Tour to win stages."
"He has natural intuition and that's what you need. The Tour is a really tough bike race for the sprinters and you only have seven friends, everybody else is your enemy, but I'm convinced he'll perform really well. I'm feeling very excited about seeing what he can do in the last kilometre."
Indeed, when Jakobsen won the first Grand Tour stage of his comeback, in stage 4 of the 2021 Vuelta a España, he described it as the closing of a chapter. And no-one can doubt that this Friday in the 2022 Tour de France, a new chapter is opening for him, too.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.