'I tell everybody that I never give up, I also have to tell myself': Fabio Jakobsen suffers and survives mountains and time cut at Tour de France

The Dutch sprinter is now aiming for a second win from the two remaining chances at the Tour de France

Fabio Jakobsen came within 15 seconds of missing the time cut on stage 17 of the Tour de France and the morning after, with one last day in the mountains remaining, he was tired. 

The third week of the Tour is different for everyone, some riders find their best legs and for others, the effects of accumulative fatigue become more pronounced, no less so than in the Pyrenees. 

In Lourdes on Thursday morning Jakobsen wasn’t praying for a miracle or lining up to buy the holy water that was for sale in every size from every tacky tourist shop in sight. 

His faith in his legs, his legs and his mind, had got him through the day before and helped him crest the summit finish at Peyragudes where Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl staff and teammates had stayed, wildly gesturing in the air and yelling words of encouragement into the race radio, willing him home. 

“We keep going to the bottom of the last climb and then we see how far we are behind, and yesterday we knew it would be a close call,” said teammate Yves Lampaert, who had been among them. 

That’s why we left him behind a bit to make sure we are not out of time with five guys. 

“But in the end, we made it possible that he could save as much as possible energy to the bottom of the last climb and then that last one he had to search his own tempo and go full gas.” 

Jakobsen knew in Lourdes that he’d have to do it all again. The devilish route of stage 18 to Hautacam presented pure sprinters with another real danger of missing time cut and being sent home so close to Paris, even though it still felt very far away. 

Jakobsen sensed his body had fatigued in what is his first Tour de France, and one which has been unkind to sprinters, who’ve had only three opportunities so far to race for victory. The rest has been competing for survival. 

“I would say 9.2,” Jakobsen said when asked how tired he was on a scale of one to losing the will to live.  

In yet he, like stage winners Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), and like Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and others yet to chalk one on the board, continued to suffer and push on. 

“This is my life, this is what I choose to do, I train for this,” Jakobsen said. 

“While you’re here you do your very best so even though there is not that many sprints, we want to take every opportunity.” 

Jakobsen has faced much greater challenges in the last two years than the Alps and Pyrenees, coming back from life-threatening injury to the top of his game and the sport.

“I think I owe it to all the people who have supported me on my way back, on my way here, the team who is here,” he continued. 

“I always give 100 per cent and I’m going to do it again.” 

There was no video of the so-called ‘Wolfpack’ howling in unison that circulated social media on Thursday evening, as it had done the day before, showing Jakobsen’s feat at the back of the race, otherwise unseen. 

It wasn’t necessary.

The 25-year-old finished the stage safely within the time limit and then descended to where the team buses were parked single file. 

He smiled as a handful staff around the bus casually congratulated him on a job done well. 

The mountains were now behind him now, and the road to Paris, salvation, seemed clearer. 

Jakobsen stood as he spoke to Dutch media and when they dispersed and English-speaking press stepped in, he abided by a cycling gospel. 

“For this next one, I’m going to sit,” he said. 

Jakobsen sat in the doorway to the team bus and exhaled hard when asked how hard the last day in the mountains was. 

“That’s the summary,” he joked. 

“I would say the Alps was the hardest in race pace, feeling, but that was in the middle of the Tour, this is in the last week, so obviously there’s a bit more fatigue in the body.

“I can feel that my heart rate doesn’t respond as quickly as it normally does. That’s normal but I think the last two-three days there was a physical limit on my body. It’s just there. 

“I tried to keep the mind as sharp as possible. I always tell everybody that I never give up, I also have to tell myself.”

Jakobsen felt a responsibility to his teammates, who helped him win stage two in Denmark, a lifetime ago, and equally survive terrain that his body was not designed for. 

“As a sprinter without the team you are nothing,” he said. 

“They are as important in winning sprints as they are in me getting to the finish line in these races. 

“As a sprinter, you realise these guys are all I have, and I owe everything to them.” 

It was a mixed feeling, Jakobsen said, leaving the mountains. The hardest part of the Tour is over, but equally Friday’s lumpy run to Cahors could be, and the finale in Paris is, an opportunity for him and his rivals. 

The ‘Wolfpack’ wouldn’t have to wait for long, it seemed, for a sign. 

“Today I’m grateful, I’m relieved I could make the time limit,” Jakobsen said. 

“But when I turn around and enter the bus, I’m going to put my shoulders back, my chest up a bit and ask them what they think about tomorrow.” 

Amen to that.