21-year-old Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Floors) took the first win of his professional career with a measured performance and powerful sprint at Nokere Koerse.
Quick-Step Floors had been towards the front of affairs all day at the Belgian one-day race, with Pieter Serry and Florian Sénéchal making it into a threatening escape group that went clear with 35km remaining.
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However when the race came back together in the final 10km the team started to work for a sprint, covering attacks by Wout van Aert (Verandas-Crelan) and Luke Rowe (Team Sky) before putting Jakobsen in the perfect position for the sprint.
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) opened the sprint on the slight uphill finish on the cobbles of Nokere, but it was Jakobsen who had the best power and timing as he surged clear to take a comprehensive sprint victory.
How it happened
The early break consisted of eight riders who quickly built an advantage of 10 minutes over the chasing pack. In the move were Ivo Oliveira (Hagens Berman Axeon), Rob Ruijgh (Tarteletto-Isorex), Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), Yannick Martinez (Delko Marseille KTM), Simon Sellier (Direct Energie), Timothy Stevens (Cibel-Cebon), Martijn Budding (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Daniel Turek (Israel Cycling Academy).
The course consisted of numerous laps including eight ascents of the short Nokereberg climb, with the finish located at the top, and the consistent climbs combined with a steady ramping up of the pace behind saw the gap steadily fall.
CCC Sprandi Polkowice and Verandas Willems were responsible for much of the pace setting as the gap came down below two minutes for the first time with around 40km to go, with only a crash in the bunch which brought down Chris Lawless (Team Sky) among others disrupting the rhythm.
However the gap really started to tumble when the attacks started to fly behind as Pieter Serry (Quick-Step Floors) and Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems) accelerated on a cobbled sector with 37km remaining, splitting the peloton to smithereens and pulling a group of nine riders clear.
Alongside Serry and Van Aert were Nathan Van Hooydonck and Loïc Vliegen (BMC Racing), Florian Sénéchal (Quick-Step Floors), Baptiste Planckaert (Katusha-Alpecin), Jasper Philipsen (Hagens Berman Axeon), and Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic) who worked well together to quickly opening a gap of 30 seconds over the steadily reforming peloton behind.
Back at the front of the race and Dunne had gone solo while the rest of the breakaway was swept up by the Serry/Van Aert chase group, with that group being caught by the peloton as they approached to cobbles once again with 10km remaining.
Having missed the earlier move, Team Sky weren’t going to make the same mistake twice as they appeared en masse at the front of the bunch with Dunne just a few seconds up the road on the Lange Aststraat cobbed sector.
Dunne was quickly caught before Katusha-Alpecin raised the pace once again on the Huisepontweg sector to whittle the group down further but being unable to get anyone away. Likewise Van Aert was unable to get away with a powerful attack, succeeding only in lining out the bunch rather than forcing a gap.
Van Aert continued to pull the bunch along until 1.5km to go, ahead of the final cobbled sprint into Nokere when Quick-Step moved to the front.
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the first to open his sprint, but it was 21-year-old Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Floors), appearing at the front of the race for the first time all day, who surged clear to take the first victory of his professional career.
Nokere Koerse 2018: Deinze to Nokere, 191km
1. Fabio Jakobsen (Ned) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-32-56
2. Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
3. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis
4. Roy Jans (Bel) Cibel-Cebon
5. Andy Fenn (GBr) Aqua Blue Sport
6. Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin
7. Zak Dempster (Aus) Israel Cycling Academy
8. Sean de Bie (Bel) Vérandas Willems-Crelan
9. Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic
10. Kamil Gradek (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice, all at same time