Jakobsen: We're fighting on the bike but in Ukraine guys like me are fighting for freedom
Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne winner reflects on Russo-Ukrainian War after beating Ewan
Speaking in the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne press room after his victory on Sunday afternoon, Fabio Jakobsen ran through all the standard lines of questioning following the race — team tactics, the hills, the finishing sprint — but it was what he said after many of the assembled journalists had dispersed that stood out.
After initially putting down the microphone and readying for the exit after a long round of press obligations, the Dutchman picked it up again to address the room unprompted.
"My mind and my prayers are with the people in Ukraine and the east of Europe," he said. "Let's hope it doesn't escalate any further and we get peace over there because for us it's nice to be here and enjoy bike racing again.
"Here, it's 25-year-old guys fighting on a bike for a win and there, it's the 25-year-old guys like me fighting for freedom and their life. It's not a nice time over there and here we enjoy this, but my mind is over there and that puts things in perspective."
It was a serious and thought-provoking way to end a day that had earlier seen Ukrainian Mark Padun dedicate his Gran Camiño stage victory to his fellow citizens back home. The comments highlighted the maturity of the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl sprinter who has only recently fought through life- and career-threatening injuries himself.
He is, of course, now fully recovered from that litany of injuries suffered in Poland a year and a half ago. A "big, big question" posed to him during the post-race presser centred on how the team can now rely on him fully following his recovery.
"Pressure I think is something that that comes with top sport and especially being a sprinter," Jakobsen replied. "You're usually in the position where the whole team works for you and relies on you, and I think that is one of the moments that you feel most alive. For sure I do.
"Last year going into the Vuelta it was not really a bonus anymore. We were already planning on sprinting for the win. There, the guys said, 'we think you are one of the fastest in the peloton so we're going to just work for you fully and try to win'.
"I had a normal winter. I trained a lot with the guys, and we did a lot of sprints so I could really feel that I was getting back to the level I was before the crash. I'm grateful for that. It's not been easy getting here but now at least I feel like a normal professional rider again."
With his success in Kuurne, Jakobsen now has five wins to his name in 2022, more than anyone else in the peloton — even if the biggest goals of the season still lie some months ahead.
Currently, he can lay claim to being the fastest man in the peloton. He modestly says top five, though he hasn't yet measured himself against every top sprinter, including the likes of Jasper Philipsen, double stage winner in the UAE Tour.
"It feels good. I like to be the fastest," he said. "I still love speed. God gave me a couple of fast legs and I'm happy I can show it and sprint for the win.
"I think you're always the fastest for a day. I would put myself in the top five of sprinters and probably today I was the fastest. I have not been able to measure myself to the guys in the UAE, but I would like to, and I look forward to that. So, for today I think I was the fastest in the world before the start."
A late breakaway catch and Lefevere's motivation
One of those traditional reference points for the best sprinters in the peloton — along with the Tour de France and Scheldeprijs, which he has won twice before — is Milan-San Remo. Jakobsen has already said that the race is not in his plan this season, but said on Sunday that he would like to take it on.
"You would need to talk to the team management about that. For sure, I dream about Milan-San Remo, but maybe this year is too soon. I'm going to do Paris-Nice and then see what comes after, but the shape is there, and I feel good so if there's a spot available then, of course, I'd like to race there."
The challenge at La Classicisma would be the hills, specifically the Poggio, which in recent years has thwarted the sprinters more often than not. At Kuurne, though, Jakobsen coped fine with the challenges thrown in his path — from the usual cobbled Flandrian bergs to the newly added Walloon hills. They draw to a close far from the line, but still, you can only ride what's in front of you.
"I was in a nice spot because I know I've got teammates who can be in the first group," Jakobsen said. "So, I just needed to position myself in the first 50 but I did notice that if I started in position 30 I was passing guys, so I was not dropping back and that's good for the mind.
"Then you know that you have legs, so I was never really in trouble but always within reach of the first group and easily in the second group. I do feel the legs burning but I don't get dropped off the back so I wouldn't say it was easy, but it was doable and especially when you know the last hill is 50km from the finish, you just need to hang on and see if it becomes a bunch sprint."
In the end — at the very last — it did become a bunch sprint, but only just. The remains of an attack group that jumped away at 60 kilometres to go was still out front well into the last kilometre, with Christophe Laporte, Taco van der Hoorn, and Jhonatan Narváez only caught as Jakobsen and his sprint rivals blew past within sight of the line.
Jakobsen, his maths perhaps not exactly on point, said that it was a 50-50 chance that the peloton would make the catch, but noted that his mindset stays the same whether he's sprinting for a win or minor placings.
"It doesn't really matter because in the last 10 kilometres you just need to be focused on sprinting and if it's for a fourth place, then you sprint for fourth place," he said. "But when it's 10 seconds, you know also in the front that they want to win so they probably look at each other a little bit. Then you can always come from the back.
"So, I launched my sprint at 300 to go, which is maybe a bit far, but when you dive into their slipstream, you can take some more speed and I think that's how I got a chance to keep Ewan in second place and finish first."
The victory — just ahead of Caleb Ewan, leader of QuickStep's great Belgian rivals Lotto Soudal — ended up 'saving' the team's Opening Weekend, itself something of a mini-campaign within the wider context of the spring Classics.
It came a day after QuickStep-AlphaVinyl had ended up with an anonymous ninth place to show for their efforts at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Team boss Patrick Lefevere — he of a considered opinion and calm temper — had had some choice motivational words in West-Vlaams dialect for the team on Saturday night, Jakobsen revealed.
"I don't speak the dialect," he laughed. "We all understood… I was even a bit uncomfortable on my seat because if he starts talking and it's not in a happy nice way which is normal — this is top sport, we need to perform, and I don't think we were even on the TV cameras — I'm not going to go into detail, but it was not nice to be there. But it worked."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Prior to joining the team, he had written for most major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also runs The Leadout newsletter and oversees How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal, and he rides a Colnago C40.