Fabio Jakobsen has spoken for the first time about his horrific crash at the Tour of Poland this past August.
The young Dutch sprinter was involved in a high-speed crash in downtown Katowice after he was forced into the barriers by a wayward sprint from countryman Dylan Groenewegen. Jakobsen was sent catapulting into the air and back onto the racecourse, resulting in a mass pile-up that left several riders injured, with the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider sustaining a long list of serious wounds.
The 24-year-old spoke to AD.nl at length Thursday about his memories of the event, his months of rehabilitation, and hopes for the future.
On his memories
Jakobsen’s crash came on a notoriously fast downhill sprint on the opening stage of the Polish tour this summer. Groenewegen’s wavering trajectory, sub-standard race barriers, and an 80kph sprint colluded to bring about a mass pile-up that cast a shadow over the newly-restarted season.
Jakobsen has no memories of the moment the crash happened but told AD.nl of his reaction when first shown a picture of the aftermath of the incident.
“I only saw blood,” he said. “It looked more like roadkill. I thought, huh? I don’t look like that at all, do I?”
“[I remember] how I rode to the last kilometer in the wheel of my teammates Davide Ballerini and Florian Sénéchal. That’s the last thing I remember. Then it turns black.
“My teammate Florian [Sénéchal] put his bike against a fence and ran towards me. He saw that I was lying on the asphalt, between the barriers. There was blood everywhere. The people around it did nothing – they were frozen by the sight. Florian saw that I was choking on my own blood. I couldn’t move, he saw the panic in my eyes. In a reflex, he took my head and lifted it slightly so that the blood ran from my mouth and throat. Then I calmed down, he said. But he no longer knows anything about it either, his memory stops there.”
On the aftermath
Jakobsen was immediately taken to the Sosnowiec hospital in Katowice, where he was put in an artificial coma and underwent a five-hour operation on his seriously damaged jaw and face. Jakobsen also lost a substantial amount of blood and suffered severe bruising to his lungs.
In the days following, Jakobsen had a tube down his throat to assist his breathing, suffered numbness through his body, and was prescribed an array of medications that led to constant drowsiness.
“Every time I [felt drowsy], I thought: ‘This is it, I’m dying,'” he said. “I wasn’t, but it felt like I was. That happened 50, perhaps 100 times. It was a real fear of dying. It made me panic, fighting to survive, struggling to breathe. Those were the longest days of my life. Never before have I suffered like that. I’d rather race three Vueltas back-to-back than spend another day in intensive care.”
Several months later, Jakobsen is able to look back with a hint of dark humor.
“I took the blow with my face and then with my ass: I slapped that man with it [Jakobsen was catapulted into a race official]. That was lucky: I have quite a fat ass,” he said.
On his return to racing
After two months of recovery at his home under the care of his girlfriend, Jakobsen returned to the bike in November.
He is hopeful of returning to racing soon, but without rushing his physical and mental rebound from a life-changing accident.
“The order is: first recover, then become a normal person again, then see if I can be a cyclist again,” Jakobsen said. “I have now reached the point where I cycle for two hours every other day. Quiet, at coffee-ride pace. I haven’t sprinted yet. But I do have a schedule again and I went to training camp with the team.
“A few weeks ago I cycled around with a few teammates who came by. We rode maybe 30 kilometers per hour, but I was euphoric. It felt like I was driving down the Champs-Élysées on the last stage of the Tour. I realized how much I love my profession, how much I like racing.
“The doctors and my trainer don’t want to put a date on my return. They say: take it easy, step by step. I secretly hope that I will be there when the race takes place in March, but it is more realistic that it will be August.
“There may be something that prevents me from reaching 100 percent, but I won’t know until I try.”
Jakobsen said that he will only know if he is psychologically ready to charge into a bunch sprint again when he is in the heat of a race itself.
“I don’t remember anything about the crash itself,” Jakobsen said. “I’m not dreaming about it, I’m not afraid of falling … If I want to come back, I have to dare to dive into a gap. A sprinter who brakes too much does not win.”
Jumbo-Visma sprinter Groenewegen has not raced since the crash after his team benched him while waiting for the outcome of a UCI jury’s ruling. In early November, the governing body handed the 27-year-old was a nine-month suspension.
Jakobsen was asked if he blamed Groenewegen for the crash.
“Yes, in a sense,” he said. “I am not open-minded enough to say that he is not to blame. Most of all I feel sorry. Sorry for myself, for him, for our teams. We were the two best Dutch sprinters and among the best in the world. We had been trading places all year: one time he won, the next time it was me. We were both going to the Giro. We had started a duel that could have lasted a long time. Duels like that, that’s what it’s all about in our sport.
“Quite recently he asked if we could meet. I can understand that this matter is weighing heavily on his soul and that he seeks closure. But I’m not ready for it. First, I want to learn more about how my healing process is progressing. The better I feel, the better it is for him. He didn’t want this either. And he gets a lot of shit all over him from anonymous people behind their keyboard — that’s ridiculous. I sincerely hope that he can soon do what he is good at — sprinting — and that we can leave all this behind us.”