Dylan Groenewegen’s victory at the Tour de France will be a "massive gorilla off his back" after the long battle to rediscover his sprinter’s instinct, according to Eurosport expert Robbie McEwen.
The Dutchman (BikeExchange–Jayco) was banned for nine months for causing a crash at the Tour of Poland in 2020 which left Fabio Jakobsen in a coma, although race organisers also came in for heat after concerns were raised about the safety barriers.
Both riders suffered in the aftermath. Jakobsen was left with severe injuries including brain and lung contusions, skull fractures, a broken nose and 10 lost teeth. Groenewegen was subjected to death threats and stinging criticism, spending almost three years in the WorldTour wilderness as he struggled to recover from the crash mentally.
Jakobsen strikes gold for Dutch in men's road race
Incredibly, the pair completed their own comeback stories within 24 hours of each other at the Tour – Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) winning on a blustery Stage 2 before Groenewegen’s triumph a day later.
Groenewegen was almost lost for words at the finish, admitting “mentally it was hard” to return to the top after the crash two years ago.
Eurosport expert McEwen, who won 12 sprint stages at the Tour between 1999 and 2007, revealed he had been working with Groenewegen in recent months and said the 29-year-old wanted to avoid a repeat of the Jakobsen incident “at all costs”.
‘It’s a four-up!’ – Groenewegen snatches Stage 3 victory in photo finish
“This is going to be such a massive gorilla off his back,” said McEwen.
“I’m hoping for him [that] it leads to more that will help him get back to the level that he was before both physically and psychologically and we see these incredible battles between him, Jakobsen, [Caleb] Ewan and [Wout] van Aert because it is incredibly exciting.
“On a lot of days, it’s been impossible for Dylan Groenewegen to get himself in that mindset to not just risk himself but do anything that may bring harm to anyone else. One false move in a sprint, you can bring someone down. That’s what happened in Poland with Fabio Jakobsen and he wanted to avoid that at all costs.
“He was avoiding confrontation and risk but it was affecting his racing. When he got clear air, he would win but when it got down to shoulder to shoulder, having to establish himself as the dominant position, he would let himself get pushed back too often.
“All the work this season has been to get himself in the right position and trust himself to be the fastest. There are so many mental demons that he has battled to get himself back in that sprint and it’s really nice to see."
Groenewegen beat Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) by a hair's breadth in the sprint on Sunday, the Belgian rider finishing second for the third straight stage. He had not won a WorldTour race since taking Stage 7 of the Tour in 2019.
‘It was a hard time’ – Groenewegen on bouncing back from Jakobsen crash after Stage 3 win
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