Leading by example: Fabio Jakobsen pleased to come full circle

Dutch sprinter discusses leaving Lefevere, choosing dsm-firmenich PostNL a decade after initial interest, and how his new adventure is ‘like being on a team with all my little brothers’

Clock16:04, Sunday 7th January 2024
Fabio Jakobsen has waved goodbye to Soudal Quick-Step for 2024, but remains confident of winning at the highest level

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Fabio Jakobsen has waved goodbye to Soudal Quick-Step for 2024, but remains confident of winning at the highest level

A decade ago, Fabio Jakobsen was on the cusp of joining the dsm-firmenich PostNL development team. Then known as Team Sunweb, the squad had a long history of developing sprint talent, and a fresh-faced Jakobsen thought that it would be the perfect squad to hone his skills.

However, circumstances intervened and the team was briefly put on hiatus, forcing Jakobsen to find a new squad. He signed for SEG Racing and then Quick-Step and it looked as though the Dutch sprinter would never have the chance to race for dsm-firmenich PostNL again.

But sport has a knack for throwing curve balls and second chances. Fast forward 10 years and the now 27-year-old is at his first fully-fledged dsm training camp in Calpe, Spain. He can’t yet wear the official clothing, It’s December and he’s still contracted to Soudal Quick-Step for another few weeks, but the sprinter has completely immersed himself in his new surroundings as he sits down with GCN for an exclusive interview.

“It’s been different, of course. When you’ve been in a team for six years, like I was at Quick-Step, there are a lot of new things and a lot of new faces. I still need to learn all of that but I think that’s normal. So far it feels like I’m back in an under-23 team because there are so many young guys and when I started at Quick-Step I was one of those young guys, but now I’m 27 and one of the oldest. There’s a different energy here,” Jakobsen says.

“In Quick-Step there was a more experienced energy and here they’re more eager. I like it though. I recognise myself when I was younger and these guys are still looking for direction, like where to go and how to get there. At Quick-Step, a rider like Michael Mørkøv already knows all of that.”

Read more: Fabio Jakobsen to sign for dsm-firmenich until 2026

That new energy appears to have given Jakobsen a fresh lease of life too. He’s certainly not in the veteran status of his career but he’s an established WorldTour sprinter with a vast amount of Grand Tour experience that includes six stage wins and the points jersey at the Vuelta a España. Soudal Quick-Step has a track record of hiring only the best sprinters in the world and it’s no coincidence that Jakobsen spent six years on the team. Sam Bennett, Mark Cavendish, and Elia Viviani, to name but a few, had two each in recent years.

However, 2023 saw the break up of Soudal Quick-Step as we know it. Team boss Patrick Lefevere allowed several high-profile stars to leave as he juggled the responsibilities of appeasing Remco Evenepoel’s Grand Tour push and the squad's natural affinity towards the spring Classics. Jakobsen, despite all his success in recent years, was one such rider allowed to move on, and while there were certainly no hard feelings between the rider, the team or the boss, part of Jakobsen was sad to see the break-up take place.

“During the Tour de France, Patrick told me that there was no spot for me. I was already talking to a few teams, and dsm were one of the first to make contact with my managers and myself. I’ve always had a good relationship with Patrick but I also spoke to the sports directors and the staff and if you don’t get an offer before the Tour, you know,” he says.

“When you’re in the team you can see it and feel it. Remco is someone you have to invest in and if I was running the team then I would do the same. It hurts, and it’s my personal pain, but I understand. The way Patrick works is that if he can’t offer you his best then he won’t offer anything. In the end, there was no offer so I didn’t have to make a choice. He didn't want to give me a programme that didn’t fit what I was capable of. We’ve parted ways but in a good way.”

dsm-firmenich PostNL proves the natural fit, but can the Dutchman overcome the Quick-Step curse?

With a place on the transfer market secured, Jakobsen and his agents at SEG set about finding a new home. There were plenty of initial options on the table, and the 27-year-old was probably the most sought-after sprinter without contact for 2023 but dsm felt like a natural fit almost as soon as talks began to take place. The squad needed a proven leader for the sprints, and Jakobsen wanted a team that would provide unwavering support and an environment in which he would not get bogged down in too many discussions over GC and stage racing.

“I spoke with Bora, Trek, EF, Arkéa, and Israel, those were the biggest teams,” he says.

“FDJ were also interested but as the months go on from the spring one team signs a rider and they all have options. I was one of the first to choose this option because of the heritage of the team, what they wanted to do and the programme we had together. It was a good match. The other teams were waiting a bit and trying to find out what they wanted to do. This, for me, was the best option.”

At dsm-firmenich PostNL the focus is always on development but Jakobsen gives them a cutting edge in sprints that they’ve not had since the days of Marcel Kittel or when John Degenkolb was at his fast-paced best. Jakobsen doesn’t strike as the overly demanding type but he does come across as an incredible professional and one who realises that dsm will allow him both a certain degree of flexibility and a significant amount of opportunities. Outside of Romain Bardet, they don’t have a rider who could confidently say that a top-ten finish in a 2024 Grand Tour is a realistic aim. Not yet, anyway.

Read more:

“It was the full support on sprints,” Jakobsen says when asked why he chose dsm.

“As a sprinter, you don’t always have the luxury of going for the top teams because there’s always the GC ambition there but as a sprinter, you want to win sprints in the Grand Tours and if a team goes there with a GC then there’s no spot for a GC train. I think at Quick-Step it was possible but now it’s changing because of Remco. It’s how cycling is structured, so as a sprinter, you need to find a team that fully supports you in that quest.

“We’ve seen in the past with Argos-Shimano and Skil-Shimano that they won many bunch sprints with Kittel and Degenkolb and when I was a junior I signed a contract with the development team of Giant Shimano and then it stopped. I was transferred to SEG, so eight or nine years ago I was already thinking about joining this team because of their ambition and now it’s gone full circle and I think that’s where I fit in.”

There is another dynamic to the transfer, a rather uncomfortable truth that very few riders leave Lefevere’s stable and improve. It’s a fact that the majority of sprinters who depart the Belgian team see their results dry up almost immediately, with Sam Bennett raising the topic in a recent interview with GCN.

Read more:

“Wout Poels was better but there’s not many,” Jakobsen says.

“I understand what Sam has said and I hope to improve too but the way that team was structured for sprinters was with phenomenal Classics riders for leadout riders and it was hard to find that in another team. The set-up, for the last ten years, it’s hard to find that elsewhere but that structure isn’t there anymore and the past is the past. I think you can leave a team like that and still reach a decent level. Matteo Trentin was good, [Michał] Kwiatkowski too. There are a few examples but I want to win races.”

Lead-out train for Jakobsen to take shape in the spring

Much of Jakobsen’s success over the next three years will depend on the quality of his lead-out train. His new squad have invested heavily in that sense, and to their credit, they already had several pieces in play during the 2023 season, with the likes of Alex Edmondson, and Degenkolb on the roster. Further reinforcements have been added after the departures of Sam Welsford and Alberto Dainese, with Enzo Leijnse, Bram Welten, Emīls Liepiņš, ​​and Julius van den Berg signing for the team.

Read more: John Degenkolb: Never say DNF

Jakobsen still has to finalise his complete train, and the roles that certain riders will possess, but those finer details will be organised during the January camp and then tested during the early season races that pepper the spring.

Read more: 'It will be Ballerini, then me and then Mørkov' in Mark Cavendish's lead-out, reveals Cees Bol

“I don’t know all of it yet. Few Dutch guys are coming here and then with a guy like Edmondson, we have a lot of experience here. Then there’s Timo, Bram, so I expect to work with them too. I have a feel that they want to switch up the trains a bit too because there are young guys who could use that experience. So far no one has said to me that I’ll work the whole year with Edmondson, for example, but I still need to chat with Roy Curvers, who is my coach. Overall though, I’m happy with the riders here. There’s no Mørkøv but there’s lots of potential. Maybe we make a Mørkøv. It might take a few years but riders here can step up.”

Jakobsen relishes in mentorship role to younger riders

For Jakobsen, the next few months are part of an important process for both himself and his teammates. Unlike ten years ago when he almost joined the team as an aspiring U23 rider, he is now one of the experienced leaders on the roster. The younger riders will look to him for guidance, in both the good times, and the bad, and that added responsibility is a welcome addition to Jakobsen’s remit.

“You have to trust the process and I’m really confident with how the team is set up,” He says.

“The contact between everyone is good and they’ve really invested in making this work. Of course, I know I have fast legs but I can’t win on my own. We want to do it as a team because then I have the chance to excel. It’s a nice feeling to have a new adventure.

Read more: Team dsm-firmenich announce PostNL as new co-sponsor

“But this is a really nice project and we’ve got a lot of races to get things right over the next three years. For sure I need to get used to the leadership but I sometimes had that at Quick-Step but here it might be more important because they will look at me. I just want them to work with me and to work together because if I win then they win. I think we can win more than a few bike races if we get it right and there’s a lot more potential in the younger riders.

"There’s a lot of energy here but it needs to be channelled in the right direction. Now I’m the guy, of course, they have trainers, who can help them and I know I need to improve too but it’s like being on a team with all my little brothers.”

Like family, you can’t always choose your teammates, but Jakobsen and dsm-firmenich PostNL are probably the best natural fit for a world-class sprinter and an aspiring team, and if Jakobsen can lead by example, and set the tone for his ‘little brothers’ then anything is possible this season.

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