Two things that changed during Dylan Groenewegen’s ban. And one that didn't but should have.
A lot can happen in nine months, the length of time that Dylan Groenewegen, sprinter for Jumbo-Visma, has been suspended from competition after being found to have caused a serious crash in a sprint finish at the Tour of Poland. Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) had been on the sidelines with injuries incurred in the crash for almost as long as Groenewegen was banned.
Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-NL Jumbo) vainqueur au sprint de Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne devant Arnaud Démare (FDJ)
Jumbo-Visma's Dylan Groenewegen will start the Giro d’Italia next week, marking his first race since the fateful events of August 2020.
Famously, Groenewegen was found to be responsible for the severe injuries incurred by Fabio Jakobsen, who only returned to racing himself earlier this month after a lengthy and difficult rehab process, and barred from competition by the UCI, the sport’s governing body.
In the interim period, much has changed in cycling, but some things are still the same.
Before the ban, Dylan Groenewegen was in with more than just a shout of being deemed the fastest sprinter in cycling. He was pretty much unbeatable, in fact. However, the complexion of things is much different now – with Sam Bennett the undisputed king of the sprinters, courtesy of a dominant win in the Tour de France green jersey competition.
While Groenewegen may have had a chance of selection for the Tour in 2020, he stands no chance at all of going to La Grande Boucle this year. Jumbo has already named its squad, and there is no room for another sprinter, among the impressive roster of mountain domestiques there to guide Primož Roglič on his quest for a first maillot jaune of his career.
Sean Kelly reacts as Sam Bennett joins him as an Irish green jersey winner
Pure sprinters are a dying breed
Call it the Sagan effect if you like, but it’s not enough to just be fast any more. Modern quick men have to be able to climb, and sustain the cobbles (or gravel) too. This is a trend that has been coming for some time, but it’s never been more pronounced than this year. At least, that’s the way it seems looking at recent results in one-days, with Tadej Pogačar pipping Julian Alaphilippe in Liège or Wout van Aert depriving sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo of a win in Gent-Wevelgem.
The era of the pure sprint specialist seems to be at an end, with an increasingly blurry line between sprinters, classics guys and even the faster GC riders. By winning the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne, Sam Bennett proved even he is capable of getting stuck into the action on tough one-day courses.
Groenewegen, is closer to the old idea of a pure sprinter than most of the other names above. How he adapts to the changing nature of racing after almost a year away, will be fascinating to see.
Watch closing stages as Jakobsen and Groenewegen duke it out in sprint
Not enough lessons learned about dangerous finishes
One of the biggest stories of the year so far has been the UCI’s new safety rules, with the banning of the super-tuck chief among them. Richard Carapaz is the most recent rider to fall foul of the new rules, but while high-profile disqualifications continue for super-tucking and littering, little has changed when it comes to ensuring sprint finishes are safer in a post-Poland professional cycling.
Groenewegen took a lot of the heat for the crash that injured Jakobsen, but the organisers of the Tour of Poland also came in for a share of the blame, albeit mostly on social media, rather than any sort of censure from the UCI itself. The barriers used to line the finish came under particular scrutiny, as did the downhill final kilometres of the course in Katowice ensuring it was always an incredibly fast sprint. That particular finish has been scrapped from the Tour of Poland now, but races are still using the dangerous barriers – with similar ones to Poland being used at the Tour of Turkey earlier this month.
On stage four of Turkey, a crash occurred in the final straight and after several riders collided with these barriers, a number were taken away from the scene on stretchers wearing neck braces, including Manuel Belletti from Eolo-Kometa, Noah Granigan (Wildlife Generation) and Hijiri Oda (Nippo-Provence-PTS). It was all horribly reminiscent of Jakobsen’s crash and the incident that doubtless still haunts both he and Groenewegen.