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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España triumph for Fabio Jakobsen gives Deceuninck-Quick-Step dilemma in dealings with Mark Cavendish

Jakobsen's return to top form gives Patrick Lefevere tough decisions as he negotiates contracts and race allocations with Mark Cavendish.

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For Deceuninck-Quick-Step, grand tour sprinters are like busses. You think there’s none coming and then you get two arrive at once.

Fabio Jakobsen sealed his remarkable return from injury at the Vuelta a España on Tuesday. It puts Deceuninck-Quick-Step in the enviable position of having two of the fastest sprinters in the WorldTour after Mark Cavendish charted his own fairytale return to the winner’s circle at the Tour de France last month.

“We can all say this is the end of my comeback,” Jakobsen said after powering to victory at the Vuelta on Tuesday.

“I started winning at grand tours at the Vuelta two years ago and to be here again winning bunch sprints… While the accident will always be part of my life, now I can put it behind me and go again for the sprint finishes, because that’s what I’m good at.”

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Jakobsen is just 24-years-old and has a contract through 2023, while Cavendish is yet to seal a deal for 2022. So what does that mean for the Manxman and his position in Patrick Lefevere’s “Wolfpack?”

Sam Bennett and rising fastman Alvaro Hodeg will both be racing elsewhere in 2022, but Quick-Step’s potential bounty of sprint riches could give Lefevere a headache as he mulls Cavendish’s future contract and race itinerary.

 

Despite being 36 years old, Cavendish guarantees Lefevere and co. bucketloads of PR presence, and if he can hold his form, a host more marquee victories.

But prestige comes at a price. Even though Cavendish seems to race for love rather than money, his four-stage Tour haul hands him a bargaining chip to push for another zero at the end of his contract for next year.

Lefevere has pinned down his team’s future through a six-year deal with Quick-Step and co-brand AlphaVinyl and so has money available to him. But Lefevere is known to keep a very careful eye on his bank balance, and negotiations will prove considerably tougher than when the veteran manager threw Cavendish a career-saving lifeline 12 months ago.

Although Cavendish will have had a host of offers landing in his inbox through the summer’s “silly season,” it’s likely he’ll want to stay in the “Wolfpack” environment that has seen him flourish.

It’s hard to see Lefevere wanting to let Cavendish go, but Jakobsen offers him a tantalizing alternative “Plan A” – particularly given Quick-Step could manage without two marquee sprinters as it builds its GC ambitions with Remco Evenepoel. Cavendish is likely to have to lean even more heavily on Specialized Bikes and his other personal associations in order to book a stay in the Quick-Step “pack” in 2022.

To be a fly on Lefevere’s boardroom wall in the coming negotiations would make for a fascinating listen.

Jakobsen the future, Cavendish the present – or the past?

Fabio Jakobsen and Mark Cavendish together at the Tour of Turkey
Fabio Jakobsen and Mark Cavendish: Best of buddies – for now. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

In the strong likelihood that Cavendish stays with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, who will prove top “wolf” when the biggest races are allocated next year?

Jakobsen represents the future for Lefevere, and the Dutchman has become a part of the squad’s soul after the events of the past 12 months. That Jakobsen was handed a two-year contract extension in July – some two weeks before the pair of stage wins at the Tour of Wallonie that marked the first steps in his return to greatness – speaks volumes.

“To see where Fabio comes from, it’s just a miracle. Step by step he’s making progress and we’re super happy to have him with us for two more years,” Lefevere said when he extended Jakobsen’s contract last month.

“He’s been through a lot, but he always had the team behind him and that will never change. In the past, he beat some of the fastest sprinters in the world in some of the biggest races, and we are confident that one day he’ll be able to raise his hands again.”

https://twitter.com/PatLefevere/status/1427655144951451651

With a few exceptions, Lefevere is growing his future around youth.

Evenepoel is signed through 2026. Along with the young Belgian and Jakobsen, the sub-25-year-old Vuelta riders Mauri Vansevenant, Andrea Bagioli, and James Knox represent Lefevere’s next generation of stage racers. And the 26- and 29-year-olds Kasper Asgreen and Julian Alaphilippe have multi-year deals that guarantee success across all sorts of terrain for several years.

Cavendish is almost a generation apart from the team’s young cubs and his ongoing form can’t be guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Jakobsen is looking every inch the sprinter he was before his horror crash in Poland, and he can only keep improving.

Some 24 months ago, victories at the Tours of the Algarve, Turkey, California, and twice at the 2019 Vuelta saw Jakobsen mentioned in the same breath as Bennett, Caleb Ewan, and Dylan Groenewegen as one of the fastest in the world. After Tuesday’s Vuelta win, many would say he’s already back alongside such illustrious company.

The young Dutchman offers Lefevere a pipeline of future success.

Whether he wins again or not at this year’s Vuelta, Jakobsen will want to make his Tour de France debut next summer. And although he may not admit to it, Cavendish is also going to want to return to France in a bid to snatch the 35th Tour win that will see him go one better than Eddy Merckx.

Only one sprinter will get a seat in Michael Mørkøv’s leadout limousine next season. Any second Quick-Step fastman will have to make do with less prestigious offerings.

Jakobsen is the future, a youngster with many years ahead of him. Cavendish is the present – or maybe the past. Both have comeback stories rich in PR-pickings.

Lefevere could have the tough luxury of keeping both Cavendish and Jakobsen happy next summer. It’s a sticky situation the rest of the peloton will be watching with jealousy.