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Jakobsen wins Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with Ukraine war on his mind

'Here it’s about 25-year-olds fighting for the win but over there the 25-year-olds are fighting for freedom' says sprinter.

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KUURNE, Belgium (VN) — Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) had mixed emotions after winning Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

He was understandably in high spirits as he walked into the press room in Kuurne, testing the mic like a pro and making jokes. But when he sat down to talk to the press there was a far more serious side to the rider’s personality, and he used his time in front of the cameras to draw attention to the on-going conflict in Ukraine.

There’s no doubt about it: the Dutch powerhouse is back at the highest level. In Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne he beat Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), with claims that the Dutchman is now the best sprinter of the world.

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“Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is important for a sprinter. I’m really happy to have won because this is a race you want on your palmarès as a sprinter. It feels good. I like to be the fastest. I still love speed. God gave me a couple of fast legs and I’m happy I can show it and sprint for the win. You’re always the fastest for a day. I would put myself in a top-5 of sprinters. For today, I was the fastest in the world,” Jakobsen said.

In a thrilling finish the breakaway was only caught in the final meters and Jakobsen profited from that. “I launched my sprint at 300 meters to go which is a little bit far but when you dive into their slipstream you can take some more speed. That’s how I got a chance to keep Ewan in second place and finish first.”

Though Jakobsen clearly felt good and enjoyed the ambiance at the start, along the course and at the finish, he also had mixed feelings because of the conflict in Ukraine.

“In my country and in Belgium everything is opening again. We’re free. Over there the people are afraid. I’m happy to be racing here but my mind and my prayers are with the people in Ukraine. Here it’s about 25-year-old guys fighting for the win but over there the 25-year-old guys are fighting for freedom in their life. It put things in perspective.”

At the start of the semi-classic Jakobsen lined up in the small town of Kuurne as a top favorite with Ewan, and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix). Obviously there was pressure on Jakobsen, and team manager Patrick Lefevere only added to it . On Saturday the Belgian team had an off-day in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and last night the Belgian manager had ‘a little word’ with the riders in the team hotel. Jakobsen was clearly glad not to have been among the riders who rode on Saturday but understood Lefevere wasn’t pleased.

“Flanders is the terrain where we need to show that we are a team. Yesterday we were not the team we’re supposed to be. He put that with west-Flemish words into our head. Don’t ask me to repeat it. It’s like Lefevere said: we had the aperitive and now we were up to the starters. The ‘opening weekend’ in Belgium is important for us. Pressure is something that comes along with top sport. Especially as a sprinter you’re usually in a position where the team relies on you. It’s the moment you feel the most alive,” Jakobsen said.

And Jakobsen is living his life to the fullest. The story is well known, and he was happy to have had a normal winter.

“I trained a lot with the guys. We did a lot of sprints. I’m getting back at the level where I was before the crash. I’m grateful for that. It’s not been easy getting here. Now I feel like a normal professional rider again. Without any major setbacks this winter I was able to sprint for the win today in Kuurne and that’s just special, especially where I come from,” Jakobsen said.

Next up for Fabio Jakobsen is Le Samyn on Tuesday and then Paris-Nice. For now, today’s best sprinter of the world isn’t scheduled to race Milan-San Remo.

“After the finish I wished Caleb good luck for Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo because I think he’s the favorite there. Me? You would need to talk to the team management about that, maybe ask Lefevere. For sure I’m dreaming about Milan-San Remo but maybe this year it’s too soon. I’ll do Paris-Nice and then see what I’ll do afterwards. The shape is there and I feel good. If there’s a spot available of course I’d like to race there.”

The other classic for sprinters during the spring season is Gent-Wevelgem and Jakobsen will be racing there. “It’s a bit longer but there’s not that many hills. I like the wind and love to ride in echelons. There’s just three to four times where you really need to do an effort. Today I was never really in trouble but always within reach of the first group and easily in the second group. It’s relative of course because I do feel the legs burning but I don’t get dropped off the back.”