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Sprinting superstar Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) came to his team’s rescue with a last-gasp victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, salvaging a tricky opening to the Spring Classics.
How it started
‘Opening Weekend’ got off to a forgettable, but not unprecedented, start for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.
“The Opening Weekend is still not always the easiest for us, especially Omloop Het Nieuwsblad,” sports director Tom Steels told Cyclingnews before the weekend. “Okay, we won it last year, but often we get our asses kicked there.
“It’s just to know what shape you’re in, because the Spring Classics are such atypical races, they’re unique in the season,” Steels continued. “With the small roads and the small climbs, the effort is very different. At least you know where you are after Omloop. That’s the good thing about the Opening Weekend. But of course, on a Belgian team, it’s still important to be good there.”
Cut to Ninove on Saturday afternoon: asses soundly kicked.
Bad luck plagued the team throughout Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and with Wout van Aert riding away to solo victory, Florian Sénéchal was the only Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl representative in the frantic chase, and the best the Frenchman could do in the sprint for second was ninth.
“We know our guys are still not 100 per cent, then all the little things start to count,” said Steels after the race. “We lost Kasper, who had a flat tyre really bad moment when the race really started, so he had to chase a long time. Other guys were just a bit too far back, and then you can’t win the race.”
How it ended
Fabio Jakobsen brought fresh legs to the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl roster on Sunday, but he wouldn’t be the all-out leader. As always, ‘The Wolfpack’ had plenty of options, including Sénéchal, Zdenek Štybar, Yves Lampaert and 2020 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner Kasper Asgreen, who was drafted in at late notice for an unwell Bert van Lerberghe.
Before the race, Jakobsen said himself that he would be “a plan”, but given the depth of the team, he didn’t know which letter.
“You never know who’s in shape in the team because we’re usually always up there,” Jakobsen said before the race. “I guess if one of those guys is gone or in front they can win, and I’ll be behind in the bunch. On the other end, I’ve got a strong team supporting me so I can benefit from that if it ends up in a sprint.”
Though Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl was arguably outshone on the day by Jumbo-Visma, whose riders were everywhere once again, the scenario laid out by Jakobsen is more or less what played out on the road from Kuurne to Brussels (almost) and back. But the whole peloton was almost upset by a marauding trio who made it to the last 300 m before they were caught.
The 2022 edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne should go down as a fine vintage. With the early breakaway gathered up and the first moves neutralised, rider-of-the-weekend Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) attacked with 62 km to go, his move initiating the formation of a 17-rider group. Jumbo-Visma had three riders there in Benoot, Nathan van Hooydonck and new signing Christophe Laporte, while Asgreen was Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s only man.
The Dane played a wise game as the group’s margin yo-yoed to the desperate peloton led by the sprint teams which had missed out. With the Jumbo-Visma riders playing their cards, and Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), early breakaway rider Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) determined to stay away, Asgreen’s efforts were limited for the time being to ensuring he didn’t miss a move.
As the race entered the last 30 km, the gap still hovering around 30 seconds, Asgreen put his nose in the wind with a hard acceleration in an attempt to shed the many passengers. The repeated wearing accelerations and lack of cohesion ultimately worked in the peloton’s favour.
The sprint team-led peloton swept up most of the escapers in Kortrijk, a little more than 15 km from the final passage of the finish line. Only the motivated trio of Laporte, Van der Hoorn and Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) – who was also on the attack yesterday – stayed away, taking back up to 14 seconds.
By this point, the peloton had been chasing for about 50 km and the sprinters were running dangerously low on matches to burn, although Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl benefited from the return of Asgreen.
The leading trio still held six seconds under the flamme rouge – partly thanks to a four-strong Jumbo-Visma train doing their best to hold the peloton up through the final corners – but the peloton had just enough firepower left to get the job done.
In the end it was just as well there were three riders up ahead because Jakobsen was out of lead-out men by the bunch sprint. With Trek-Segafredo leading down the finishing straight, Jakobsen chose to sprint into the slipstream of Laporte and Van der Hoorn, and then fly off the wheel for the last gallop across the line.
“I have to thank the team of course. We had three guys to catch in the end and I had to use all my teammates to even be able to sprint for the win,” Jakobsen said after the finish. “So the last hour was fast and furious, but I know I have a good sprint, so I launched at 300m to go and dove into their slipstream, and then it’s just all the way to the line. I could feel Ewan come on the left, but I guess I had a good jump and I could pass the line first.”
Jakobsen proved to be the very best sprinter on a weekend when his was possibly not the best team. But there’s no need for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl to ask questions of their performance and/or tactics just yet, a win is a win, but they’re not used to being outgunned.
As for Jumbo-Visma, it looks like their strength in depth might just rival that of the ‘Wolfpack’ this spring, which is good news for everyone.
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