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Groenewegen making his case as rising sprint star

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Dylan Groenewegen was not among the star speedsters at the Dubai Tour’s pre-race press conference, but he out-sprinted all of them on the opening stage.

The 24-year-old LottoNL-Jumbo rider enjoyed a terrific 2017, winning the final stage of the Tour de France. Despite that huge victory, Groenewegen still finds himself outside most conversations about the sport’s top sprinters. Doubters take note, however: The Dutchman is wasting no time affirming his talent to start the new season.

“I won on the Champs-Élysées; that was a really big win, the biggest win in my career. I could win again here, with the best sprinters. I can beat them,” he said confidently after Tuesday’s stage.

Groenewegen topped the very cream of the sprinting crop en route to his victory. He put the likes of Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) into his rearview mirror in the finale. The sprint win was a combined effort, with teammate Timo Roosen offering a textbook lead-out and Groenewegen finishing things off.

A number of other sprint trains are busy working out early-season kinks and many of his rivals are still building into racing shape, but Groenewegen and team are already on winning form. That’s even with a few recent additions to the fold.

“We have some new riders with Amund [Grondahl Jansen] and Timo Roosen in the sprint train, but you could see today that it was a really good result,” he said. “I was sprinting at 200 meters. That’s what we want and we did it, so that’s really cool.”

Getting his first victory of the season out of the way in just his first day of racing is a major morale booster for Groenewegen. More than affirming the talent he showed last year, it also proves that the work he put in over the offseason was worth it.

“Last year I started winning a bit late. It was in April I think in Yorkshire. This year, I’m winning early coming into the season,” he said. “It’s really cool for my team and also for myself. I had a good winter and we can see that now.”

Given his 2017 campaign, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Groenewegen did not feature in the race press conference or as a name in many pre-race previews. The Dutchman isn’t spending any time complaining about his lack of recognition, however. Instead, he’s focused on doing the one thing he knows can change that.

Asked in the winner’s press conference how he feels when he hears names like Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) come up far more often in discussions of sprinting’s next generation, Groenewegen’s response was simple: “I am winning now.”

However the public or the race organizers view him, Groenewegen is already getting more and more respect as an emerging sprint star in the pack. Teammate Bram Tankink, who helped pull Groenewegen into the final kilometers of the Dubai Tour’s first stage, says he can’t fly under the radar anymore after his Champs-Élysées win. His performance against so many stars in Dubai only helps build that case.

“You have to admit that after the Tour de France Champs-Élysées that Dylan really is a big guy,” Tankink told VeloNews at the Dubai Tour stage 1 finish. “He’s young but he’s one of the up-and-coming guys. He proves it here. There’s only like two sprinters not here. It’s like a world championships of sprinting.”

One might assume a lower profile might give Groenewegen a stealth advantage against the likes of Cavendish and Kittel. However, Tankink says it’s just the opposite. He believes Groenewegen’s job is only getting easier as he continues to prove himself.

“The advantage is of the guys who are the big champions because most of the time they let them in,” Tankink noted. “They look to, say, Kittel, and that gives him some free space.”

That bodes well for Groenewegen’s future. As he continues to gain respect, the results may get more consistent.

He won’t have long to wait for another chance to prove himself. Wednesday’s second stage is flat and ripe for the picking. Competition will be fierce, but at least on Tuesday, that hasn’t proven to be much of an obstacle for Groenewegen.

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