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VN Awards: Comeback of the year

Fabio Jakobsen returns from a near-death experience to win three stages of the Vuelta a España.

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There was a point sometime between when he was lying in a hospital bed and undergoing the first of several operations, that Fabio Jakobsen decided he was going to return to racing.

The Dutch rider was literally fighting for his life in the moments and days after his high-speed impact with a finish-line barrier at the end of stage 1 of the 2020 Tour de Pologne.

Yet as doctors nursed him back from the brink and helped reshape his face from a horrible list of injuries, Jakobsen knew he had to return to racing.

Flash forward to the 2021 Vuelta a España. Jakobsen was one of the fastest sprinters yet again, winning three stages in dramatic fashion.

“A year ago I was lying in a hospital bed with 10 broken teeth and wondering if I would live or die,” Jakobsen said. “To win again at this level is a dream come true.”

If fans or media might have been surprised by Jakobsen’s quick comeback to racing, his teammates were not. Zdeněk Štybar could immediately sense the Dutchman’s steely determination.

“It was a big goal and dream for all of us to help him and bring him to victory,” Štybar said. “Nobody on the team really had doubts about his comeback.”

Jakobsen, too, said he never doubted he’d be back in the winner’s circle. Despite the brutality of the impact and the extent of his injuries, his “motor” was largely left intact. Regaining his touch and confidence, however, in the sprints was the bigger barrier.

“It changed me a little bit as a person, and my limit for pain is a bit higher,” he said. “It still hurts to be on the bike, but the reward now is higher. This is what I like to do, I like to race, to win, to be with the team, and the pain in the last 500m is nothing compared to the surgery or the pain when I was in intensive care.”