The 25-year-old Dutch rider has had a stellar season so far, with a win in sprinter's festival Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and at least one victory in every stage race in which he has participated. The disqualification for the ignoring level crossing in the Scheldeprijs where he was the top favourite is a side note.
As a result, Groenewegen featured on the front pages of many Dutch cycling magazines in their Tour de France preview edition. A win in the first stage would have made him the first Dutch rider in the yellow jersey since Erik Breukink in 1989. That was a lot of pressure to deal with, pressure he received from the outside but likely also from himself. The desired win in the Vendée didn’t come in the opening stage, and then also not in the two following chances.
“The first two chances I had, my legs were really bad," Groenewegen said following his stage 7 victory. "The fourth stage was better, and that gave me confidence, because I felt the power in the legs was back. It has been better every day, and today was really good.”
Nevertheless, Groenewegen sensed that, to him, there was a lot of criticism and that was why he made a gesture that is more often seen on football fields: He put the finger on his mouth when crossing the finish line in a bid to tell his detractors to be silent.
"A lot of people criticized me in the first few days," he said. "It's hard for them, and it's also hard for me – it's frustrating for myself that it was not possible to win in the first days. Today I felt really good, and it's really good to speak with the legs.
"It was a big frustration that the legs were not good enough on the first stages. Then people say I'm not good enough to win at the Tour de France. Today we did it, and it was really great to win."
Friday’s longest Tour de France stage, 231 kilometres from Fougères to Chartres, was ridden mostly at an easy pace. The pace only picked up in the final kilometres when the peloton stormed towards Chartres. Once into the city centre, there was a sharp corner at 2km from the finish. From there, it was more or less straightforward until 500 metres from the line, where the road went up until the final 100 metres.
“I was in a good position," Groenewegen said. "It was really hectic and really hard. Two kilometres before the finish I found my team again. We had a talk, and they said, 'We are here on the right side’, so I went to the right side, and they did a really good job to bring me to front in the last 2km. Timo was in front of me, and I trust him. He put me in a really good position to sprint and he did a really good job."
Groenewegen was with Timo Roosen, just outside the top 15, when they reached the final kilometre. From there, Roosen shot forwards between riders and then steadily moved up from wheel to wheel until he found European champion Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates).
"The team did a really good job," Groenewegen said. "I said, 'Stay together', and we did it. I found Timo and he brought me to a good position to sprint from the wheel of Kristoff, so I say a big thank you to my team."
At 250 metres from the finish line, Groenewegen accelerated away from Kristoff on the outside of a slight corner with Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) on his wheel. Double stage winner and world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hnasgrohe) was on the inside of the corner on the other side of Kristoff. Ahead of them was another double stage winner, Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors).
At 150 metres from the line, Groenewegen passed Gaviria, while Cavendish and Kristoff tangled and faded back. By this point, Gaviria and Sagan realised they weren't going to win the stage. Groenewegen continued his sprint until the line and then put his finger to his lips.
Groenewegen will be pleased that he definitely confirmed that his win on the Champs Élysées in the final stage of the 2017 Tour de France wasn't a fluke. Winning that sprint in the absence of several top sprinters who didn't make it over the mountains left a bad taste. Behind the podium, he was congratulated by Sagan and by overall leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). He appreciated the congratulations from the green and yellow jersey wearers.
"Yeah, they say, 'Good job'. It's really nice to hear," Groenewegen said. "They're also really good riders with a lot of wins. I'll try to win the stages they win, but they're already great riders."
The win and the congratulations will surely boost his confidence ahead of the upcoming stages. Groenewegen's next chance to win will come on Saturday, then he has to survive the tough mountains stages.
"It's always good to win," he said. "It's really important for a sprinter to win, also for the confidence. First we celebrate this one, but tomorrow is a new chance, and of course we try it again, and I hope I see you again tomorrow."
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