Fabio Jakobsen avoided the pitfalls of a chaotic finish to stage two of the Tour de France to deliver an emotional victory in Nyborg, Denmark.
Jakobsen, making his Tour debut less than two years after suffering life-threatening injuries in a crash at the Tour of Poland, stayed clear of late spills at the end of the 202.5km stage from Roskilde to come around Mads Pedersen and beat Wout van Aert – who consoled himself by taking the yellow jersey.
The day had been designed to build up to fireworks on the 18km-long Great Belt Bridge in the finale, but it was after the peloton returned to dry land that the key incidents occurred as a crash blocked the road inside the final three kilometres, leaving a select group of sprinters to contest the honours.
It was a second stage win in as many days for the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team, and Jakobsen’s win will have silenced those critics who had questioned the decision to select the Dutchman ahead of Mark Cavendish, the winner of four stages and the green jersey in last year’s Tour.
However Yves Lampaert, the winner of Friday’s opening time trial, conceded yellow to Van Aert, who picked up six bonus seconds for his second place to wipe out his five-second deficit from 24 hours earlier.
The Belgian now leads by a single second from compatriot Lampaert while defending champion Tadej Pogacar, held up by the late spill but spared time losses given it happened inside the final three kilometers, is eight seconds down in third.
Several Ineos Grenadiers riders were delayed by the crash as Dani Martinez and Filippo Ganna went down, but Geraint Thomas avoided trouble to cross the line soon after Jakobsen. The Welshman remains 18th, 26 seconds off yellow.
At the end of a nervous day, the broadest smile belonged to Jakobsen, who less than two years ago was placed in an induced coma after suffering a catalog of injuries including brain trauma following a high-speed crash in Poland.
He returned to racing in April last year and finished the season by taking three stages and the points classification in the Vuelta a Espana, but this was the crowning glory in his comeback.
“Today was ‘incroyable’ (incredible) as we would say in French,” he said. “For me it’s been a long process, step by step, a lot of people have helped me along the way.
“This is to pay them back and to see it was not for nothing. I’m happy I still enjoy riding the bike and racing the bike and I’m lucky I can still win.”
Tour director Christian Prudhomme had gone out of his way to make this stage as nervous as possible for all concerned. Local organizers had suggested a finish line 20km further down the road but Prudhomme wanted the Great Belt Bridge – and the threat of crosswinds – to characterize the approach to the line.
Those crosswinds would not truly materialize with riders instead heading straight into a headwind at the end, but the mere threat had kept high tension throughout the day – with riders just grateful to make it to the finish.
“It was sketchy and stressful but I think we’ve definitely had worse,” Thomas said.
“We knew the wind direction on the bridge wasn’t too dangerous but everyone still wanted to be in front. The boys were really good looking after me, (Adam) Yates and Dani (Martinez).”
Van Aert’s target in this Tour is green, but he was delighted to take the yellow jersey which is the ultimate goal of his team-mate Primoz Roglic.
“This is only my fourth Tour de France but this feels like ‘finally’,” the 27-year-old said. “I’ve been hunting this one for a few years already and today is the day so I’m really happy.”