Dutch comeback king Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) added the cherry on the cake to his remarkable Vuelta by notching a third victory in Stage 16 on his 25th birthday. Dropped by the peloton on a climb inside the final 60km, and then inadvertently distanced by his lead-out man Bert Van Lerberghe in the final few hundred metres, Jakobsen did it the hard way – but produced the goods when it mattered.
Powering from the wheel of Belgian youngster Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jakobsen held off a late surge by Italy’s Matteo Trentin – whose UAE team were responsible for splitting the pack earlier in the day – Jakobsen took a comfortable win to complete his hat-trick ahead of four brutal days in the mountains.
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Meeus took a career-best second and Trentin third, with Australia’s Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Italy’s Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) completing the top five. Once again there was no strong finish from misfiring Frenchman Arnaud Demare despite a hefty presence from his depleted Groupama-FDJ team ahead of the finale, Demare fading to sixteenth place after being tailed off in a series of chicanes in the final kilometre.
“A birthday is always a good day but I’m over the moon with this win,” Jakobsen said, a year after his life-threatening crash in the Tour of Poland. “I think what we saw today was the Wolfpack: I was dropped on a climb, the guys waited for me and brought me back, I won the race, but it was all because of them. The only thing I can do is do a short, fast sprint, and they did everything else today. I’m never confident but I always try – because if you don’t try then you never win.”
The peerless Jakobsen strengthened his grip on the green jersey on what will be the last opportunity in the race for the sprinters to shine. The Dutchman now leads nearest challenger Trentin by 127 points with five stages remaining – four in the mountains and the decisive final-day time trial in Santiago de Compostela.
Focus now shifts to the Asturias mountains with a tough stage to the mythical Covadonga lakes, with Norway’s Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) retaining a 54-second lead over Frenchman Guillaume Martin (Cofidis). Defending champion Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) is poised in third place at 1:36 ahead of Movistar duo Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez.
Martin and Mas did not exactly enjoy the best preparation for the queen stage of the race, both riders hitting the deck in an early crash which blemished the start of the 180km stage through Cantabria in northern Spain.
A tougher day than expected
Four riders – Stan Dewulf (AG2R-Citroën), Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Dimitri Claeys (Qhubeka NextHash), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) – zipped clear shortly after the start, with a fifth, Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), taking advantage of an easing-up in the peloton following the early crash to bridge over and join the party.
The high-speed accident took down 15 riders most notably the Italian climber Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Martin and Mas. If the Frenchman and the Spaniard were able to ride back into the peloton without too much trouble, Ciccone needed medical assistance before getting back in the saddle. Starting the stage in 12th place just over six minutes down, Ciccone finally rejoined the pack after 30km but later withdrew because of a knee injury. Frenchman Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) and Belgian Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) also threw in the towel to reduce the field to 158 riders.
Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) receives treatment after an early crash in Stage 16 of the Vuelta a Espana 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
On a challenging day over rolling roads with over 2,270 metres of climbing, the breakaway never managed to hold much more than two minutes over the pack. Belgium’s Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) was able to attack from the peloton on the only categorised climb of the day, the Cat.3 Alto de Hijas, with 75km remaining to make it six men out in front entering the business end of the stage.
Splits occurred when UAE Team Emirates squad drilled out a hefty tempo on the front of the pack in a bid to distance some of their fast finisher Trentin’s rivals – with the man in green momentarily caught out. Surrounded by the QuickStep cavalry, Jakobsen managed to rejoin the main field with 48km remaining despite trailing by 30 seconds.
UAE eventually knocked it off before handing over the baton to the teams of the sprinters, with Alpecin-Fenix, Groupama-FDJ, Decuninck-QuickStep and Team DSM all sharing out pacing duties to snuff out the chances of the breakaway.
The last man to join the move was the first to pop, Vanhoucke blowing up on a series of spiky hills on the approach to the finish. Dutchman Bol went for bust with 11km to go but it was the Dewulf who was the last man standing – the Belgian holding out until 5km remaining.
QuickStep held back until the final 2km when they brought up the man in green ahead of a technical finish that saw the road narrow through a series of tight turns and chicanes. It was hardly conducive to leadout train tactics – which was just as well, for Jakobsen lost the wheel of his pilot Van Lerberghe in the final kilometre.
It did not matter, though. Holding the wheel of the impressive Meeus, Jakobsen danced clear at just the right moment to complete his hat-trick at the last possible moment for the peloton’s fast men. Back-to-back summit finishes at Lagos de Covadonga and the Alto de Gamoniteiru are followed by a rolling ambush day in Stage 19 and then an Ardennes-style lumpy stage on the eve of the race’s final 32km time trial on Sunday.
Having taken over the red jersey from defending champion Roglic a week ago, Eiking’s credentials will be tested like never before as the Slovenian bids to become only the third rider in history to win three successive Vuelta titles.
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