Fabio Jakobsen takes Stage 4 in a photo finish

Aug. 27, 2019

Fabio Jakobsen took his first-ever Grand Tour victory today, defeating Sam Bennett by a microscopic margin to win Stage 4 of the Vuelta a España. Jakobsen was led out perfectly by teammate Max Richeze and in the last 100 meters the stage looked his for the taking, but Bennett weaved his way through traffic and slipped alongside Bennett right at the finish – both throwing their front wheels across the line, neither seeming to realize who had actually won. But the photo would later hand it to Jakobsen by the merest nubs on his tires.

Stage 4 had seemed a clear opportunity for the sprinters, with around 40 kilometers of downhill and flat roads between the final climb and the finish. And so the Deceuninck-Quick Step team would have had it earmarked for Jakobsen, who has emerged as a sprinting talent this year. But the run-in to the finish ultimately underscored how quickly a cycling team can adapt its tactics to the facts on the road.

Though the plan was to bring Jakobsen to the line, with just over five kilometers to go teammate Remi Cavagna was setting the pace at the front of the peloton when he came out of a corner so quickly that he accidentally established a gap between himself and the next rider back. As Cavagna continued to push, the gap grew. Jakobsen later reported that the team directors immediately jumped on the opportunity and instructed him to go, go, go, and try for his own win. Cavagna’s escape would last until just before the one-kilometer-to-go marker, when he was reabsorbed by the charging bunch. The Deceuninck team then calmly defaulted back to its original plan, for Jakobsen, but for several minutes they had relished the chaos his outburst had provoked.

The day had been relatively stress-free until then. Jorge Cubero and Jelle Wallays formed a two-man breakaway at the start of the stage that lasted for 140 kilometers, until an untimely gearing jam for Cubero sidelined him and forced Wallays to go it alone.

The Belgian would be caught a short while later, as the teams of the sprinters queued up for the finish, and the teams of the overall contenders tried to keep out of danger. (Indeed, Team EF Education First pushed so hard that they dropped a couple of dozen riders off the back of the peloton, including erstwhile overall contenders Jesus Herrada and Wout Poels, who ended up finishing over four minutes behind.)

The only other news in the overall classification was the abandonment of Steven Kruijswijk with about 120 kilometers to go. The Dutchman, who finished third in the Tour de France in July, was here as part of the supremely strong Jumbo-Visma team supporting Primoz Roglic, but Kruijswijk apparently banged up his knee in the crash on the opening team time trial and had been fighting the pain ever since.