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Fabio Jakobsen’s crash in the Tour of Poland was one of the biggest news stories of this curtailed cycling season. The former Dutch national champion spoke for the first time after that fateful day in Katowice in an interview with Thijs Zonneveld in Dutch newspaper AD.
“I’d rather ride three Vueltas a España in a row than ever spend one more day in the Intensive Care Unit,” Jakobsen said.
The Tour of Poland was one of the very first races after the COVID-break and the peloton was eager to race again. The stage finish into Katowice on day two was a familiar one to Jakobsen too. He remembers the day well.
“I knew that local lap because I had ridden there the year before,” Jakobsen says. “The finish was at the same place, downhill. I remember feeling well, greeting my friend Julius van den Berg who was in the breakaway on the local lap. I remember being on the wheel of Davide Ballerini and Florian Sénéchal. After that it’s black and I don’t remember anything anymore.”
Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen battle it out in that last dash to the finish. Their speed was over 80 kilometres an hour when Groenewegen deviates, hits Jakobsen and sends him into the barriers. The barriers fall apart as Jakobsen hits them. He lands on a UCI commissaire who broke many ribs but softened the blow for Jakobsen.
“If that man would not have been there, I would have hit the finish gantry head-first and would not be sitting here,” Jakobsen says. His teammate Florian Sénéchal was one of the first ones to see Jakobsen. The French rider lifts Jakoben’s head, freeing his airways.
“Other people were frozen on the scene,” Jakobsen explained. “Florian saw the panic in my eyes. There was so much blood. In a reflex, he lifted my head so the blood could get out of my nose and mouth. He says I was more at ease after that but he doesn’t remember anything more. On the tv images you can see him crying and for days he wondered if he did the right thing lifting my head, not [potentially] making it worse by causing spinal cord damage. It was a choice between two evils and he made the right choice.”
Team UAE’s doctor Dirk Tenner was also at Jakobsen’s side. He said the physician who has experience in traumatology coordinated the efforts until the trauma helicopter arrived.
Jakobsen was brought to the hospital’s ICU and ended up in an induced coma. His injuries were extensive: brain contusion, hairline fractures in the skull, broken palate, losing ten teeth, losing parts of the upper and lower jawbone, cuts to the face, broken thumb, bruised shoulder, damage to the nerves of the vocal cords and a lung contusion.
In the AD interview, he recalled waking up, seeing his girlfriend but also remembers he felt like dying over 50 times in that bed.
“I had so much trouble breathing and was afraid to choke because of the trachea tube but also because of my lung being contused. I was on all sorts of medication,” he recalls. “I kept losing consciousness, slipping in and out. Every time I thought ‘this is it, now I am going to die’. This happened 50 maybe, 100 times. I didn’t die but it felt like that. These were the longest days of my life. I’d rather ride three Vueltas a España in a row than spending one day more day in the ICU.”
Jakobsen has already had many surgeries to restore the extensive damage to his face. On the outside, you don’t see much of the injuries anymore but the real damage is inside. He has had bone transplants to restore his jaw but it won’t be until the end of next year before he has all of his teeth back.
The 24-year-old rider has been on the bike again for short coffee rides. He has been on a training camp to Spain with Deceuninck-Quickstep but is realistic when it comes to his comeback.
“My body suffered a tremendous blow. The biggest issue is the vocal cord nerve damage. I need full recovery of the vocal cords because it’s vital for breathing as a rider on the World Tour level. I hope to be back in the peloton in March but the doctors want to take it step-by-step. It would be nice to return at top level in August, a year after the accident. My luck is that I don’t remember the crash. I have no nightmares about and I am not afraid of crashing [because of it]. I will only know whether I won’t be afraid to sprint again when I am back in that bunch. I know that if I want to come back, I can’t sprint with fear. A scared rider hits the brakes,” he said.
Jakobsen saw the images of the crash from his ICU-bed in Poland. To him, it’s clear that Dylan Groenewegen is at fault. The UCI suspended Groenewegen for nine months. He is eligible to ride again in May.
“We were doing 84 kilometers an hour so you don’t have a lot of time to react. Dylan texted me and wants to talk but I am not ready yet. My injuries were also this extensive because of these barriers and the speed. The barriers didn’t stop me. They just folded. We have to get rid of dangerous finishes like this. I won’t be sprinting anymore when I see faulty barriers like these in a race again,” Jakobsen said.
Jakobsen is unsure whether he will ever be able to ride at World Tour level again. Deceuninck-Quickstep and Jakobsen are now investigating who is liable for damages, now and in the future.
“It’s possible I won’t come back to that level. My contract is up at the end of next year and nobody wants a cripple rider. I might end up working in a factory. There is nothing wrong with working in a factory but it wasn’t the future for Delore, me and – possibly – future children. I am not thinking lightheartedly about these liability cases but it also can’t be that I am left with the consequences of something I didn’t create. It’s not about the money only but also about responsibility.”