Olav Kooij was on the ground with a bloodied shoulder, forearm and shin just 20 kilometres from the finish line of the Gran Piemonte yet the 19-year-old Jumbo-Visma sprinter still managed to get back to the front of the race in northern Italy and onto the podium.
The young Dutch rider, who is in his first season on the WorldTour, came across the Borgosesia finish line on the wheel of winner Matthew Walls (Bora-Hansgrohe) while Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka NextHash) came up alongside the British Olympic Omnium gold medallist to take second ahead of Kooij.
“This third place is definitely not bad,” Kooij said in a team statement. “Walls and Nizzolo had just a bit more pure speed at the end. With the crash in mind, I think this is a performance I can live with. Of course I would have preferred not to crash, but those things happen in cycling. Fortunately, I could continue.”
It was at 28km to go that the last of the riders from the break were brought back in and as the sprinters teams continued to work to keep the pace up and the race together Kooij slipped out on a corner at 20km to go. He quickly turned the momentum from his slide across the tarmac into a roll to get back on his feet and onto the bike so he could chase.
“After such a crash, it is important to flip the switch and work very hard to get back in the pack,” said Kooij. “I’m glad I could count on the fantastic support of my teammates.”
After making sure Kooij was safely back in the peloton his team helped him to the front of the pack for the finale. Michel Hessmann and Edoardo Affini delivered a lead out that left him positioned to fight for the podium, which he stepped onto with a heavily bandaged arm before heading off to get stitches on his elbow.
The third place at the 177km-long Gran Piemonte follows on from a powerful performance at the six-stage Cro Race, where Kooij secured the points jersey, two stage victories and a second place. He also took third in the U23 men’s road race at the World Championships and, in August, second in stage 3 of the WorldTour ranked Tour de Pologne.
The rider was fast-tracked from the team’s development programme, which he had joined in 2020, making his WorldTour debut in February at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
“The fact that I am one of the youngest riders in the peloton doesn’t mean anything to me,” Kooij said. “The team gave me the confidence today and I would like to repay that. In the coming years I hope to make great strides and compete for victory in races like this, but it’s always uncertain what the future holds.”
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