‘I need full support from a team’ - Fabio Jakobsen on leaving Quick-Step, keeping faith and his next chapter

The Dutch sprinter discusses his plans with Team dsm-firmenich PostNL and explains that he sees no need to panic about his form so early in the season

Fabio Jakobsen has an aura of calm about him as he sits down in the bright white lobby of Abu Dhabi’s W Hotel. With the UAE Tour starting in just a few days time, the Dutchman has done a press conference and plenty of interviews this afternoon already, but there isn’t even a sense of impatience in his tone as he says hello. “It’s all part of the job,” he smiles, reflecting on his day so far. Jakobsen, it seems, is grateful to be here, happy to be doing what he loves, happy to be on a bike at all.

The Team dsm-firmenich PostNL rider doesn’t want his career to be defined by his horror crash at the 2020 Tour of Poland that put him in an induced coma and left him fighting for survival, but for Jakobsen to be understood, this event is something that must be remembered. The sense of mature perspective that the 27-year-old has as he speaks about his next chapter with a new team is indicative of someone who is simply appreciative to have the chance to race.

“For the long term, I'm not going to stress too much about winning or not winning. It's more about getting to know everybody on this team, and then, for sure, the wins will come,” Jakobsen says. “I know I've been blessed with the physical abilities to be a sprinter, but that's not all of it, I am also able to get my head down and work for what I want, enjoy it and do all the training and all the sacrifice that is necessary.

“Sometimes when an accident happens, or you get a setback, I try to go back to the basics by just taking each day to try and improve and make the most of it. If you do that for long enough, you can get quite far. I think I've shown that it's possible.”

With a Tour de France and five Vuelta a España stage wins, Jakobsen is undeniably an extremely quick sprinter, but, as a person, he’s much more than that. He speaks about how important mentality is when it comes to winning races, adding that he reads and studies methods on how to improve mental strength, working with a psychologist for the six years he was part of Soudal–Quick-Step.

“I try to always educate myself on modern topics regarding psychology and the way to approach pressure or stress. It's not always easy, but you have to try to look at it rationally, not emotionally,” Jakobsen explains. “You have to make a plan and focus on it. It's not easy, sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.”

Despite his measured and intelligent approach to racing, Jakobsen is still keen to stress that his biggest motivation is, and always has been, winning. It’s why he fell in love with the sport in the first place, and why he’s had so much success in the past. Last season – his final one with Soudal–Quick-Step – was disappointing for the Dutch sprinter, marred by crashes and misfortune that eventually caused him to abandon the Tour de France after stage 11.

“If you look back at last season, it wasn’t my best year. I still managed to win a stage in Tirreno and I think I was on the right track leading up to the Tour de France. I had a crash in the Tour and it was hard to recover from, but I managed to get back up and go to the Tour of Denmark, where I was really happy to get two wins,” Jakobsen reflects. “Maybe in terms of value, the races I won weren’t the biggest, but I was still at the level I wanted to be. It's bike racing. Accidents happen, and I'm happy I could say goodbye to the team with a couple of stage wins.”

Jakobsen is keen to stress that his departure from Soudal–Quick-Step was on good terms from both sides. With the exigent rise of Remco Evenepoel to a potential Tour de France winner, Jakobsen understands it is a natural step for the Belgian team to switch to more of a general classification focus when it comes to the Grand Tours. For him as a sprinter, however, this would have meant far less opportunities and support. That didn’t make waving goodbye to his team of six years – who helped him through some of the toughest challenges in his career so far – any easier, though.

“I'm grateful for the time I had and I was sad to leave. It had been my second family for six years. When I see the staff and the sports directors, we’ve got quite a good connection. I did not leave angry, we never had a fight. We were always supportive of each other,” Jakobsen says. “I would love to have stayed, but there was just no possibility for me to go after my ambitions and be fully supported, which means I would just be there because the atmosphere is nice. That's not why I am in cycling, I want to perform. So it's just a new chapter in my cycling life. I'm grateful for the start I had at Quick-Step and now I am grateful for the chance I get [at Team dsm-firmenich PostNL] to continue.”

The move over from a Belgian team to the Dutch dsm-firmenich outfit has come with some significant changes for Jakobsen. He reflects on a winter of trying out new equipment and getting to know new staff, adding that he’s had some teething issues with shoes and insoles which took some time to get ironed out. Despite that, though, Jakobsen insists that he’s steadily learning how to be comfortable in his new team as the races begin and he gets to know his teammates.

“If you've been, for six years, on the same bike, with the same shoes, you have to adapt a bit. But by the time it was New Year, I was okay,” Jakobsen says. “I’m doing a different style of training, I would say more sprint specific. I made some improvements there.”

Team dsm-firmenich PostNL are known to be a team with a relatively regimented and structured approach to training, something that Jakobsen explains has been a shift away from the culture at Quick-Step, but should benefit him throughout this season.

“I think in this team, they take it up a notch by making a specific sprint group, especially on the team camps and back at home, there’s more of an emphasis on sprint compared to Soudal–Quick Step. There’s been more stimulus on that part, which I hope to show in races. My value from 20-30 seconds up to a minute, has taken a step up, that’s where I make a difference in the race,” Jakobsen says. “This team really wants to aim for stage wins, especially in the big Tours, and I just need a full team in support of me to be able to reach that. That's what I found here, so I'm happy with where I am now.”

The approach that Team dsm-firmenich PostNL takes to analysing sprints after they haven’t gone to plan is also something that Jakobsen points out as very different compared to Quick-Step’s method. He explains that Team dsm-firmenich aims to use a “bottom-up approach”, looking at the positives of how a sprint went, rather than letting the team’s morale drop after a bad result. Jakobsen also says that the average age of the riders on Team dsm-firmenich PostNL is something he’s getting used to, explaining that he’s often working with a group of riders who are much younger than him, a shift from the dynamic at Quick-Step. 

“They are still learning and getting to know WorldTour races. In my old team, I was usually the youngest guy in the team and there was a lot of experience above me so I just had to listen. Now I try to help the riders on this team to try and give them the experience that I have and then hopefully, if we make steps together, then we can become a properly functioning team,” Jakobsen says.

“I feel that it's a sort of social responsibility, especially if you have to finish the work off, to keep the morale high and to show that you're invested in not only in the victory for yourself, but also in their progress. If you give some feedback, sometimes it can be quite direct, but you always learn from it. The goal is always to get better, but I'm also only six years professional myself, so I try to keep an open mind and also learn from what everybody else is saying. For sure, I don't know everything yet and I also still want to improve.”

Building a bond with his teammates is especially crucial when it comes to creating a successful lead out train, and Jakobsen argues that, with the calibre of sprinting field stronger than ever in 2024, a strong train is necessary for success in the biggest races. While the Dutch rider is without a victory in 2024 so far, he still sees his opening races of the season as a success because they have been important steps in building a relationship with his team.

“In a training camp you can practise and talk about it, but then when the heart rate goes up and the adrenaline is there, then you really get to know your teammates. So far, it's been a good atmosphere. We all love cycling. We all love racing,” Jakobsen says.

With his friendly demeanour and calm, analytical approach to racing, Jakobsen certainly comes across as a team leader who will be able to get the best out of his teammates. Team dsm–firmenich PostNL have some lofty goals for the 27-year-old later this season, including stage wins in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. Jakobsen understands the height of these ambitions, but he’s confident that by having faith in his own journey, he can achieve them.

“I would like to win a stage in the Giro and the Tour. Normally, in DSM, nobody would say that, but it’s who I am and why I get on the bike,” Jakobsen says. “It's incredibly difficult nowadays to win a sprint stage in a big Tour, but I think that's the goal we have to aim for. That doesn't mean that if we don't succeed, it's a complete failure, but I do think it's a circle we can draw around the calendar as what we're focusing on.”

Despite a couple of seasons with setbacks and difficulties, Jakobsen appears more motivated than ever to perform. It’s a testament to his character that it isn’t only for his own happiness that he wants success in 2024, but also for his teammates, who Jakobsen is acutely aware make plenty of sacrifices for his chances at victory.

“In the back of my mind, I still hate losing. When I come from a race without a personal result, I do carry the responsibility for winning as the last man on the train and that motivates me even more to try and take a step up,” Jakobsen asserts. “In the end, I started cycling to win races.”

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