Fabio Jakobsen put the finishing touches to Quick-Step Floors’ remarkable 2018 season when he clocked up the squad's 73rd and final win of the campaign on the concluding stage 6 of the Tour of Guangxi on Sunday.
In the final part of the season, Quick-Step Floors manager Patrick Lefevere set his team the task of beating Mapei-QuickStep’s tally of 71 victories during the 2000 season, and Jakobsen secured the record in China earlier this week when he won stage 3 in Nanning.
The Dutchman repeated the feat beneath driving rain in Guilin on Sunday, once again beating German champion Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) into second place in a bunch finish on the final day of WorldTour racing of 2018. His Quick-Step Floors team had long since secured victory in the season-long team classification.
"It started I think 20k from the finish when the pace was really, really high. In Belgium, they would say it was à bloc, à bloc," Jakobsen said afterwards. "In the final kilometres I was behind Davide [Martinelli] and behind Philippe [Gilbert] and Philippe just did a perfect lead-out from 1.5k to go. I was in the wheel of Davide at the corner. He dropped me off on the wheel of Pascal [Ackermann] and I was just sprinting from there and I was the fastest so I won."
Quick-Step’s startling run of success began with Elia Viviani’s win on stage 3 of the Tour Down Under in January and continued unabated across the calendar. The squad dominated the Classics with wins at the Tour of Flanders, E3 Harelbeke, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and also claimed stage honours in each of the Grand Tours.
"Amazing, I think because this is the greatest year in the history of Quick-Step," Jakobsen said. "It’s also my greatest year and it just was like a snowball effect when we started winning. Then everybody started to win and I’m really happy that I could finish this season off in style."
While Fernando Gaviria and new arrival Elia Viviani led the line as Quick-Step's marquee sprinters in 2018, the neo-professional Jakobsen weighed in with the considerable haul of seven sprint wins of his own, including three victories at WorldTour level and a Classic triumph at Scheldeprijs.
"To win more than seven times," Jakobsen grinned when asked his objective for 2019. "It's only the start of my career. I hope to become even faster and better. I keep on dreaming of more wins and better races. I’m really enjoying it so far. If you win as a neo-professional seven times, you have to be really happy and I am."
In the longer term, Jakobsen has a loftier goal in mind. "I think if you’re a sprinter – like I am – you want to win on the Champs-Élysées but that’s like a long-term goal," he said. "I hope in the coming years I can become strong enough to do a Grand Tour and to finish in Paris."
Quick-Step Floors’ deep roster of sprinters means that opportunities to race a Grand Tour might be limited in the immediate future. In 2018, Fernando Gaviria won two stages at the Tour de France, while Elia Viviani clocked up six at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. It remains to be seen, however, if Gaviria will remain with the team – rechristened Deceuninck - Quick Step – in 2019, with UAE Team Emirates reportedly keen to extricate him from his current contract.
Jakobsen played a straight bat when asked if he had designs on riding a Grand Tour in 2019.
"Not yet. I think I'm not strong enough yet to do three weeks, but you never know," he said. "If the team wants me to do a Grand Tour next year then I’ll do it because they have the experience. I don’t have the experience, so I’ll just let men like Tom Steels to guide me and they will tell me when I’m ready to do a Grand Tour."