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Vuelta a Espana

Fabio Jakobsen grinding closer to green jersey at Vuelta a España

Just like it did for Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France, Deceuninck-Quick-Step is shepherding its Dutch sprinter through the mountains.

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Mark Cavendish did it at the Tour de France, now it’s Fabio Jakobsen‘s turn at the Vuelta a España.

The Dutch sprinter endured two brutal days in Spain’s unrelenting Cantabrian range to make it to the finish line safely — if close — within the time cut. Only three stages stand between the Dutchman and what would be his first grand tour points jersey victory.

“It was hard,” Jakobsen said at the start Friday. “I wouldn’t say I made it, because the next two stages are not easy.”

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Jakobsen, already a winner in three stages and second in two more, needs to endure Friday’s and Saturday’s rollercoaster stages in Galicia before riding Sunday’s closing time trial to hit a personal milestone in what would be his first points jersey victory in a grand tour.

Race-leader Primož Roglič is behind by nearly 90 points, so all Jakobsen needs to do is survive to Galicia on Sunday to win green.

Jakobsen knows he’s not out of the woods yet. In fact, early in Friday’s stage packed with short but steep climbs in the opening half, he was already getting gapped at about 6 minutes behind a breakaway.

“The first 60km is hard,” he said Friday morning. “The last two days were hard, so I will try to hang on, but it’s possible I will never see the front again.”

Deceuninck-Quick-Step is rallying around Jakobsen, who returned to his best following his harrowing crash and recovery from the 2020 Tour de Pologne. Jakobsen was nearly killed in the crash, so to return to this high level to win at a grand tour against the best of the WorldTour is already a victory.

“It’s even better. I am just really grateful that I can still race, and I get goosebumps when I win,” Jakobsen said Tuesday. “It feels so nice to be in the peloton again. I know it’s dangerous and there can be crashes, but I love to do it, and the adrenaline that comes with it. A few months ago I didn’t know if I could be a bike rider again, and here I am with three victories. I couldn’t be happier than I am right now. I love the Vuelta.”

That love was tested Wednesday and Thursday in a pair of unrelenting climbing stages.

Wednesday’s summit finale at Lagos de Covadonga was hard enough, but Thursday’s “queen stage” up and over two first-category climbs, one second-category climb and the “especial” summit at Gamoniteiru pushed him to the absolute limit.

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Surrounded by the jerseys of four teammates, Quick-Step paced Jakobsen to the finish about five minutes safely within the time limit.

Jakobsen was ashen and exhausted at the summit, but hugged his teammates and staffers after making the cut. At his limit, Jakobsen skipped the finish-line protocol Thursday after pedaling in 40 minutes behind stage-winner Miguel Ángel López (Movistar).

Teammates ride to protect Jakobsen early in Friday’s stage at the Vuelta. (Photo: La Vuelta/@cxcling)

The images played out in a strikingly similar fashion to Cavendish, who also returned from a big comeback to win four stages at the Tour and win the points jersey 10 years after his first.

The team’s orders are clear for the remaining stages — protect Jakobsen and his jersey until they reach Santiago de Compostela on Sunday.

“It depends who can be in the breakaway,” Jakobsen said. “If they not in the break, then they can stay with me.”