Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) is beginning to enjoy his raids across the North Sea. In a repeat of the corresponding day a year ago, the Dutch champion claimed victory in the bunch sprint on the opening stage of the Tour de Yorkshire, once again edging Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) into second place for good measure.
It was Groenewegen's third victory on British roads in the past twelve months – he also won in Builth Wells at the Tour of Britain in September – and it was arguably the hardest earned. There was no gentle introduction to the fray at this year's Tour de Yorkshire, with the peloton facing three categorised climbs and scarcely a metre of flat as the race rode through North Yorkshire en route to a finish on Scarborough's seafront.
The final ascent, the short but stiff Côte de Robin Hood's Bay, almost did for the fast men, as the peloton fragmented on its slopes, with Groenewegen among those caught behind. Having spent so much of the day setting the temp on his behalf, however, LottoNL-Jumbo's yellow and black guard were not minded to let their work go to waste, and they duly restored order to the race on the run-in to Scarborough, and the scene was set for a sprint.
"It was a hard stage. I was dropped on the climbs sometimes, but luckily the team was there to protect me all day long," Groenewegen said afterwards. Indeed, even after the categorised climbs were digested, he was almost caught out by the stage's sting in the tail on the final approach to Scarborough. "I felt my legs and dropped back. Fortunately, Tom Leezer was there and dropped back from the front."
The finish line was shifted forward 400 metres on the eve of the race due to concerns that the crashing waves and high spring tides along Royal Albert Drive would soak spectators at the roadside, and it was perhaps fitting that a Dutchman emerged victorious on a sprint finish that was all but reclaimed from the sea.
Cofidis led out for Nacer Bouhanni, but the Frenchman was perhaps exposed too soon, and he faded in the sprint, coming home in fourth place. Groenewegen timed his effort rather better, and he opened what proved to be a winning gap when he ripped clear inside the final 200 metres. Ewan was making real inroads into Groenewegen's lead by the finish, but he left himself with too much to do and had to settle for second place.
"In the last straight line, Bouhanni started sprinting. He shifted a bit, leaving space for me," Groenewegen said. "I was lucky on the finish, because Caleb Ewan was very close. The Tour de Yorkshire seems to like me. Last year I also won the first stage, in front of Caleb Ewan, again."
The victory was Groenewegen's first of the current campaign and he will hope to carve out a chance to add to his haul on Saturday when the peloton faces a short stage to Harrogate, scene of Marcel Kittel's win – and Mark Cavendish's crash – on the first day of the 2014 Tour. On the evidence of Friday, certainly, his LottoNL-Jumbo team has the wherewithal to shepherd the race leader over the steep Côte de Lofthouse midway through the stage.
"It's a cliché to say, but this was really a victory for the team," directeur sportif Addy Engels said. "We knew Dylan would struggle on the climb, so we said in advance that the team had to wait for him. They did, and on top of the climb they could already start the pursuit."
The end of the stage was rather less felicitous for Groenewegen's team leader Steven Kruijswijk. The sprint was marred by a mass crash in the finishing straight that saw Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Scott) go down and bring several more riders with him, and Kruijswijk was among those unable to avoid the incident.
Kruijswijk, who is putting the final touches to his Giro d'Italia build-up, was able to remount and pedal to the finish. In a statement on Friday evening, LottoNL-Jumbo suggested that his participation in Yorkshire and his preparations for the Giro ought not to be compromised. "It's bad that Steven crashes, but at first glance he seems alright," Engels said.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.