In what has already been a remarkable start to the year, 24-year-old Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) netted his first win in the spring Classics at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Groenewegen easily racked up the bunch sprint victory ahead of French champion Arnaud Démare (FDJ) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
"It's a really nice race. For me it's a really big classic. It's really nice that I can win this," Groenewegen said in his post-race press conference in Kuurne.
Kuurne is often referred to as the 'stubborn donkey town' and the winner of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne receives a donkey toy on the podium, although Groenewegen might have preferred a different animal. "I've still got a small one from my victory in the junior edition. It's not my favourite animal. My teammate Maarten Wynants loves them so maybe I'll give it to him," Groenewegen joked.
The race in the junior category is a serious test - as much of a classic as it is in the elite men's category. Groenewegen rates the win highly, at least higher than his early-season wins in Dubai and Algarve. "This is a bit harder and especially colder than Dubai and Algarve. It's a very tough race, especially when you add the cold wind to it. That makes it much harder, also with the Oude Kwaremont climb as a breaking point. It often decides the race. I was brought back by my teammates and was able to finish it off," Groenewegen said.
After taking wins in autumn of previous seasons, Groenewegen scored a career highlight with the bunch sprint victory on the Champs Elysées at the 2017 Tour de France. The win in Paris changed his career.
"You feel that there’s respect for you in the sprinter's races. That's cool," he said. "That win in Paris showed that a lot more is possible. If you win there then you're among the best. I've beaten them all. Now I'm doing that in Kuurne during the spring Classics. It's a great confirmation for me but also for the team."
It is Groenewegen's first serious tilt at the Classics and he has come up trumps already. The Dutch rider claims that a good winter resulted in a more progression. "I didn't do much different than before. I became a bit stronger. I've trained well and had a very good winter and that's paying off right now. My wattage? I can't tell you about that. My trainer tells me not to reveal it," Groenewegen said.
When asked if he considered himself as one of the top sprinters in the peloton, Groenewegen tried to remain humble. "I will see. I managed to win a lot of races this year so that's very good," Groenewegen said.
Targeting the one-day Classics
Groenewegen remains predominantly a sprinter, but he will try to put some focus on the one-day races this year. He has a few favourite races and those include Monuments like Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Milan-San Remo is the one race he's dreaming of right now.
"I don't like to say it now because it'll come back every year but I'd love to win Milan-San Remo one day, and more Tour de France stages too. I'm not racing Milan-San Remo this year. Ask the team why I'm not doing it, but it's probably because I'm targeting Gent-Wevelgem. Combining the two of them is probably a bit too much. After this, I'm doing Paris-Nice and then Dwars door Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix and Scheldeprijs. I still need to sit together with the team about the Ronde. I'm probably not doing it. I want to participate in Flanders, but I can't say that I'll win it one day. I'll work hard for it."
The cobbled climbs that often feature the Flemish spring classics, like the Oude Kwaremont, and Kemmelberg often prove to be too much of an obstacle for many sprinters in Gent-Wevelgem. Groenewegen wasn't worried too much about those. "I've been able to overcome [the Oude Kwaremont] today as well," he said. "Today I wasn't among the best at the top but arrived at 10 seconds. Bert-Jan Lindeman and Timo Roosen managed to tow me back to the front.
"I wasn't worried. When you've done all you can then that's it. If you come back then it's possible to fight for the win. There's nothing more you can do. At a certain moment we were leading the peloton with the team but we didn’t receive support. On the contrary, there were more riders blocking the work. Then Astana started working and we came back. That's when I regained hope that it would work out. In the final part of the race I still had Maarten Wynants and Timo Roosen with me and they brought me to the front. It was great teamwork."
Julien Vermote (Dimension Data) was still leading the race. The Belgian rider featured in a three-man breakaway and then accelerated again at one kilometre from the finish. Vermote was able to hold off breakaway companion Loïc Vliegen (BMC) and the peloton. When Démare and Groenewegen started their sprint at 250 metres from the finish, Vermote and even Vliegen still had a small advantage.
"When I kicked off I realized that he was still quite far away but we arrived with speed and we were comfortably on the wheels," Groenewegen said. It was only at 100 metres from the finish that Vermote was passed by Groenewegen, who had already shaken off Démare and captured the win by a few bike lengths.
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