Jumbo-Visma sprinter Dylan Groenewegen has said that he feels like he's ready to win a stage at the Giro d'Italia, where he'll make his racing return after a nine-month ban from the sport for his role in the crash that hospitalised Fabio Jakobsen at last year's Tour de Pologne.
The Dutchman was due to make his comeback at the Tour of Hungary next week but was instead a surprise inclusion in the team's Giro squad after Chris Harper was ruled out thanks to an eye problem.
He's set to do battle with a wealth of top sprinters, including Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani, Peter Sagan, and Fernando Gaviria over the next three weeks, but is confident in his abilities despite not having raced since that sprint finish in Katowice on August 5 and despite all the consequences of the crash.
"Returning to the Giro is already a great accomplishment in itself," Groenewegen said ahead of the race start in a long interview with L'Equipe.
"If I have a reason to ride, it's to have the chance to participate in this kind of race. I don't know how my first few days will go but I hope to show that I am still very strong.
"I am going to the Giro to win a stage. I have confidence in myself and I want to perform well, even if I do not understand all the elements that come into play to succeed in a good sprint again. I trained well, and my level is good. But I don't know how I'll react, or how the peloton will react when I come back."
Earlier this week, Groenewegen admitted that he'll be "under a magnifying glass" upon his return to racing and said that choosing the Giro as his comeback race was a difficult choice. He told L'Equipe that he's feeling a return to a 'normal' racing life coming back gradually and is looking forward to getting back to racing.
"What was weird at the beginning was no longer so over those months. I'm about to find the rhythm of a top athlete. I'm about to get my old life back.
"The passion has completely returned. I feel like a cyclist, like before. I once again feel a lot of pleasure when I ride behind my father on a scooter, or when I go to a training camp with my teammates."
Groenewegen joins fellow sprinter David Dekker in Italy, with the first test for the pair coming on Sunday's flat sprint stage from Stupinigi to Novara. Jumbo-Visma will be led by GC hope George Bennett at the race, while Tobias Foss, Edoardo Affini, Koen Bouwman, Paul Martens, and Jos Van Emden round out the squad.
Whatever results the team achieves over the next three weeks, Groenewegen will inevitably face more questions over the crash in Poland.
Late last month, Groenewegen revealed of how he met up with Jakobsen and said the pair were able to "unburden our hearts a bit". Jakobsen later said he was disappointed that his countryman had spoken about the meeting publicly.
For Groenewegen's part, he said that he thinks about the crash every day, adding that he wishes he could take back how he sprinted that day.
"A lot of things were wrong that day – the barriers too low, the downhill sprint," he said.
"Often I say to myself: 'If I hadn't been there, none of this would have happened.' But I was there, and I made a mistake by not keeping my line. It's like that. I wish I had never deviated from my path, and even if it was unintentional, I can't go back."
The Giro d'Italia is the focus now, kicking off this afternoon with an 8.6-kilometre time trial in Turin. Groenewegen will be the 25th man to roll down the start ramp, setting off at 14:24 local time.
He's keen to get back to action.
"I'm a little nervous because it's one of the biggest races in the world, but the overwhelming feeling is the joy of being back in the peloton soon," he said.
"I wouldn't say it's fear. I am aware that it will be difficult – the season has resumed without me this year. The level will already be very high, and I will first have to find my place in the peloton. I can't wait, can't wait to see how I'm going to feel. I miss the competition a lot."
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