The year is 2016 and Dylan Groenewegen is one of the most exciting young sprinters in the world. The Dutchman is participating in his first WorldTour season after joining LottoNL-Jumbo (now Jumbo-Visma) from Roompot. Over the year, Groenewegen has amassed 11 victories and demonstrated his class regularly, beating Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and an array of other top sprinters throughout. The then 23-year-old was also handed his first Grand Tour appearance at the 2016 Tour de France.
Over the following years, the Dutch sprinter would be a fixture of Jumbo’s Tour de France lineup, starting the race and winning at least one stage every year between 2017 and 2019. Groenewegen was the first name on the team sheet, with a substantial portion of his teammates present purely to assist him.
At this stage, Groenewegen was one of the peloton’s most revered sprinters, and he began his 2020 campaign by collecting his standard batch of early season wins. He triumphed at the Volta Valenciana and UAE Tour before his brakes were slammed on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Groenewegen became accustomed to winning during his spell with Jumbo-Visma. (Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWpix/ASO)
Finally, after an unprecedented five months without racing amidst the pandemic, Groenewegen returned at the Tour de Pologne on 5th August 2020. The first stage of the five-day race would conclude with a downhill finish in Katowice. The finale suited Groenewegen and he began as one of the favourites. However, the day can only be remembered for the grave incident that occurred at the finish line.
Groenewegen led the pack with only 100 metres left, but his compatriot and rival Fabio Jakobsen was glued to his rear wheel. Jakobsen grabbed every moment of slipstream he could before slingshotting between Groenewegen and the barrier with the finish line rapidly approaching. We all know what followed.
Groenewegen moved to the right, deviating from his line and squeezing Jakobsen into the barrier. The deviation led to a horrific crash for which Groenewegen was to blame. Groenewegen suffered a broken collarbone, was disqualified from the stage and banned from competition for nine months. For Jakobsen, the consequences were severe. He was left fighting for his life in a Polish hospital after being placed in a medically induced coma.
Groenewegen at the centre of the carnage at the Tour de Pologne, 2020. (Image credit: Szymon Gruchalski/CorVos/SWpix)
The events that took place that day have ended up being a pivotal point in the career of Dylan Groenewegen. Although he did return to race with Jumbo-Visma, his ban meant this wasn't until May 2021, where he was thrown into the fire at the Giro d’Italia. While Groenewegen was on the touchline, Jumbo-Visma had been busy unearthing and nurturing the talents of David Dekker and Olav Kooij, who are 23 and 20 years old respectively. Both young sprinters impressed in 2021 — Dekker finished second twice at the UAE Tour, whilst Kooij won two stages of the Cro Race later in the year.
Marcel Kittel told us at Rouleur Live that he is particularly impressed with David Dekker. “I think someone that was impressive, or is potentially very impressive, is David Dekker from Jumbo-Visma. He’s a strong, young rider who wants to show himself.”
Is there room for Groenewegen and two of the peloton's brightest young sprinters in the same team?
Another phenomenon has occurred since Jumbo-Visma signed Groenewegen: the team have transitioned into a GC-centric powerhouse.
In 2015, Jumbo’s GC results at the three Grand Tours were sixth, seventh and 37th at the Vuelta a España. The team found most of their Grand Tour success in stage victories, either through mass sprints or from the breakaway. An example of this was Bert-Jan Lindeman’s breakaway victory in stage 15 of the Vuelta a España, where he won in La Alpujarra.
Since then, the team’s GC results have improved dramatically, not least due to the emergence of Primož Roglič and more recently, Jonas Vingegaard. In 2021, the team achieved first, second and ninth place at the three Grand Tours — a significant improvement in just over five years.
Jumbo-Visma now enter Grand Tours with adjusted ambitions and objectives. Where does Groenewegan stand? Would Jumbo-Visma take him back to the Tour, despite lofty GC goals? If they did, surely they'd be unable to support him as necessary while still vying for the top step of the podium overall.
So, what about Team BikeExchange?
Esteban Chaves riding for Team BikeExchange, Dylan Groenewegen’s new team. (Image credit: Emma Wilcock/SWpix)
The Australian outfit are undergoing a transitional period. Adam Yates left for the Ineos Grenadiers in 2021 and, although Michael Matthews returned to the team following a stint at Team Sunweb, BikeExchange only mustered nine victories this season. They had accumulated 16 a year prior and 35 in 2019. With the departure of Esteban Chaves to EF - Nippo, concern for BikeExchange’s 2022 win total may have been appropriate.
And that is why BikeExchange's acquisition of Dylan Groenewegen makes perfect sense. With an opportunity arising elsewhere, as it potentially closes with Jumbo-Visma, Groenewegen’s move is aptly timed for all parties.
BikeExchange can expect Groenewegen to pick up multiple mass sprint victories across the year, and if he returns to his best form, he'll be competing for Grand Tour stages. For Jumbo-Visma, this allows them to focus on supporting their GC leaders while opening the door for their young sprinters to flourish.
Most importantly, perhaps, this could be the final step Groenewegen needs to truly put the events of 5th August 2020 behind him. The damage that unfolded that day will always be linked to Groenewegen, which he admits himself. In an interview last year, he told Wielerflits, "we will always remember this." However, an entirely new environment, new teammates and a fresh start at Team BikeExchange may be the final push he needs to get back to his winning best.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix