In this year’s Tour, Mark Cavendish’s stunning victory in the points classification – and his four stage wins – came after five years of crashes, poor performances and a case of Epstein-Barr disease. That performance moved Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme to call him “the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour and cycling.” He was able to achieve it only after being hired by the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team, replacing the injured Sam Bennett.
Despite that triumph, the 36-year-old Cavendish is gradually reaching the end of his career. The likely Vuelta green jersey winner, Fabio Jakobsen who also rides for Deceuninck–Quick-Step, has just turned 25 and has a long career ahead of him if he stays fit and healthy. With three stages left in the Vuelta, he has a commanding 250-162 points lead over his nearest rival, likely GC winner, Primož Roglič of Jumbo-Visma. All Jakobsen has to do is stay healthy and on his bike for three days and he will take home his first major cycling prize. If he does, it will be a comeback as remarkable as that of Cavendish.
Just 13 months ago, Jakobsen suffered a devastating crash in the Tour de Pologne that left him in an induced coma. The race doctor said at the time that the Dutchman had suffered several major injuries in the accident, including serious brain trauma and damage to the upper respiratory tract, a broken palate, and heavy blood loss, and that he was in a life-threatening situation. However, a few days later race organizers said that Jakobsen was out of the induced coma and in “a good condition.” On August 18, Jakobsen said that he was “glad to be alive.” He did not return to racing until April 11 of this year at the Presidential Tour of Turkey.
So, the Vuelta green jersey, should he claim it on Sunday, does represent hope and renewal, not only for Jakobsen but for the sport of cycling as well. He is part of a new generation of cyclists that holds out the promise of great racing ahead. Another is Alpecin-Fenix’s Jasper Philipsen who is only 23 and was Jakobsen’s main rival for the Vuelta green jersey before being forced to drop out of the race before the start of stage 11 due to a mild fever.
Besides the colour green, Jakobsen and Cavendish have something else in common: they both ride for Deceuninck–Quick-Step, which might be the best team in the world for supporting sprinters. Jakobsen has, so far, won three stages in the race and none was more illustrative of how his team supported him than his victory in stage 16 on the day of his twenty-fifth birthday.
As the team’s Josef Černý described it, the hard work began as early as 57 km before the finish line when UAE Team Emirates accelerated the pace of the peloton in an effort to drop sprinters like Jakobsen so that their Matteo Trentin, who is not quite as quick as Jakobsen, would have a shot at the stage win. In no time at all, Jakobsen and his Deceuninck–Quick-Step support riders found themselves 35 seconds behind. Hard riding by the entire team eventually closed the gap. But in a chaotic finish, the team had to react again when AG2R Citroën’s Stan Dewulf broke away from the bunch to try and pre-empt a mass sprint and win the stage. This time it was Černý, a 28-year-old Czech rider, who closed the gap and prepared the way for Jakobsen’s winning sprint.
The Vuelta’s likely Škoda Green Jersey winner was full of praise for his team after the stage and, of course, shared his birthday cake with them. “The only thing I had to do was sprint quickly,” he said. “The boys arranged everything else. “However, Jakobsen dedicated the stage victory to the “three people who were very important in my recovery: Professor Meyer from Nijmegen Hospital, our team doctor Yvan Vanmol and osteopath Cor van Wanrooijn. ”
Green means hope, renewal, Spring and, in cycling, comeback.