Fabio Jakobsen (Netherlands) delivered a powerful sprint to win the elite men's road race at the European Championships in Munich ahead of Arnaud Démare (France) and Tim Merlier (Belgium).
The 208km race was widely expected to end with a bunch sprint and so it proved, with a collection of the continent's fastest finishers lining up for their shot at the title. Jakobsen, the pre-race favourite, had designated his future QuickStep teammate Merlier as the man to beat, and he was parked on the Belgian's rear wheel as the sprint began.
Merlier, who had been led out by Bert Vanlerberghe, opened his effort from distance, but he had no response when Jakobsen careered past him within sight of the line. Démare, meanwhile, was closing quickly on the other side of the road, but he was unable to get within a length of Jakobsen by the line.
Jakobsen's teammate Danny van Poppel had helped to place him on Merlier's wheel in the finale and he had the strength to help himself to fourth place, punching the air in celebration as he did so. Sam Bennett (Ireland) placed fifth ahead of Luka Mezgec (Slovenia) and Elia Viviani (Italy).
"You know, we don't race together much as teammates but I think we made a good plan," Jakobsen said as he waited to mount the podium. "Everyone put in his work and did a huge effort to put me in a good position here. The last man today, Danny van Poppel, I think he did an incredible job, putting me at speed on the wheel of Tim Merlier.
"I already thought before the race that Tim was going to be my biggest competitor, we're both top sprinters. I put myself in his slipstream and then I could pass. I'm super happy to be European champion."
Italy had produced the previous four European champions and the squadra azzurra looked poised for a fifth straight title when Filippo Ganna took over on the front with 1500 metres remaining. 2018 champion Matteo Trentin took over beneath the flamme rouge, with Alberto Dainese seemingly the team's designated leader, but the Italian train derailed within sight of the line as Van Lerberghe hit the front on Merlier's behalf.
Jakobsen's acceleration, however, brooked no argument and the Dutchman collected his twelfth win of the season and his first since he claimed victory on the opening road stage of the Tour de France last month.
On a route light on sprint opportunities, the remainder of Jakobsen's Tour debut became something of an ordeal, but the Dutchman battled gamely through the mountains and then made a target of the European Championships.
The largely flat parcours meant he was not the only fast man to mark the race in his calendar, and there was a loose coalition among the sprinters' teams to ensure a mass finish. The lone moment of difficulty came around midway when Italy – and Trentin in particular – looked to split the field on the climb of Eurasburg, but Jakobsen held firm, and he was later well placed throughout the five laps of the flat, 13km circuit in Munich.
"I suffered a bit on the steep kilometre at 10%, because that's not my terrain but we got through it," Jakobsen said. "We had a really strong team to control this race, but we saw the break was under control, so we just decided to move up with two laps to go. We were in position then, and the team kept me there until the last corner with 1km to go. Danny van Poppel, like I said, did an amazing job. I think he showed today that he's one of the best lead-out men out there."
How it unfolded
The heatwave that continues to wash over Europe was perhaps the greatest difficulty on the route from Murnau am Staffelsee to Munich, but the likelihood of the bunch finish did not deter early escapees Lukas Pöstlberger (Austria) and Silvan Dillier (Switzerland), who would spend the bulk of the day off the front.
Their lead, however, was never allowed to stretch much beyond two minutes and it gradually shrank after the Italian squad's show of force on the Eurasburg, which prompted some speculative attacks in the bunch before Eddie Dunbar (Ireland) restored some order.
By the time the escapees crossed the finish line in Munich for the first time with 65km remaining, their lead was hovering at around a minute, though the sprinters' teams were content to remain at arm's length for the early laps of the finishing circuit.
Local favourite Pascal Ackermann's challenge was ended by a crash on the second of those laps. The unfortunate Ackermann was placed near the front behind a line of teammates, but he appeared to clip a barrier and his fall put him out of the race.
Out in front, Pöstlberger and Dillier battled keenly to maintain their slender lead over the chasers, but they were pegged back with a shade over two laps remaining, sitting up to shake bump fists as they awaited their fate.
From there, the informal alliance among the sprinters' teams ensured that there would be a bunch finish, with Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway all prominent in organising the peloton.
Stefan Bissegger (Switzerland) made a late attempt to tear up the script with a determined solo attack with 3.5km remaining, and his rally last a kilometre or so before the Dutch squad brought him back on Jakobsen's behalf.
A determined French delegation hit the front on the run-in on Démare's behalf before the Italian took up the reins in the final 1500 metres, but Jakobsen remained smartly positioned throughout the finale before unfurling his fine winning sprint.
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