Cycling: Dutchman Jakobsen wins Challenge of Stars sprint


(Reuters) – Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen claimed victory in a virtual sprint competition, The Challenge of Stars series, on Saturday.

Jakobsen, who rides for the Deceuninck-Quick Step team, got the better of Team Ineos’s Italian speedster Filippo Ganna in the final, ridden on a virtual 1.2km course in Tuscany. Both had come through a series of head-to-head rides to reach the final.

The Challenge of Stars is the first virtual knockout tournament between professional riders organised by RCS Sport in collaboration with cycling simulator firm BKOOL.

“It’s fun to have a new format of race like this, I clearly miss the Giro d’Italia right now but have to admit I was a bit nervous approaching each of the challenges,” Jakobsen said.

Ganna said he had “a mechanical” which damaged his chances of taking victory.

“This format with short explosive sprints suits my characteristics well, I have to admit it hurts even if it’s just 1,200m,” he said. “It’s clearly different from racing outside; in a normal race you know better what is happening around you, here you need to constantly check your screen.”

Professional cycling has been on hold since March because of the coronavirus pandemic which has forced the postponement of some of the sport’s most high-profile races, including the Giro d’Italia that was supposed to have started on May 9.

Virtual racing has proved some consolation for the world’s best riders and on Sunday climbers will get their chance in the next leg of The Challenge of Stars.

Chris Froome, Team Ineos’s four-time Tour de France champion, will be taking part in the race played out on a virtual ascent of the classic Stelvio climb, with an average gradient of 8.69%, peaking at 12.75%.

Froome will be up against Warren Barguil. Other riders include multiple Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, Denmark’s Olympic silver medallist Jakob Fuglsang, Poland’s Rafał Majka and Belgian Thomas De Gendt.

Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar