Second chances are precious, and should be treated as such.
After nine months on the sidelines, Dylan Groenewegen will make his much-anticipated return to the peloton at the Giro d’Italia next week.
The Italian grand tour marks an opportunity for the Jumbo-Visma sprinter to start mending his reputation and rebuild trust with fans and riders alike.
The last time we saw Groenewegen racing, he had just squeezed Fabio Jakobsen into the barriers at the Tour of Poland. The incident set off a series of events that led to serious ramifications for both the Dutch sprinters.
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Jakobsen suffered life-threatening injuries and has endured a lengthy period of physical rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Groenewegen’s reputation was left seriously damaged and he was handed an unprecedented nine-month suspension for his actions.
With the crash in Poland the last image that many have of him, Groenewegen will have a lot to prove when he returns to the bunch in Turin – and he knows it.
“Some people will do that well and some people may find it difficult that I ride the Giro,” Groenewegen said in an interview with the Belgian and Dutch press. “I accept everyone’s emotions. It can’t get any worse than the past few months.
“I have trained well in recent weeks, so my level is really good. The only question is how it will go mentally in a race. How do I react to a peloton? It is always nervous. And how does the peloton react to me? We will only see that in the race.”
Groenewegen’s punishment was harsh. It was a statement of intent by the UCI, one that it has been trying to follow through on in 2021 – to varying levels of success.
Whether or not it was too harsh, or not significant enough, is a topic for debate, but the UCI certainly sought to make an example of him.
Though the race organizer has not been punished for any safety failings, the high-speed, downhill Katowice finish has since been effectively prohibited following a raft of safety measures introduced by the governing body earlier this year.
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However, poorly constructed barriers – which made the incident so much worse than it should have been – remain an issue. You only have to look at the finish of stage 4 of the Tour of Turkey where Noah Granigan crashed through the finish line barriers.
Nevertheless, Groenewegen cannot be excused for his own behavior, and he has had to grapple with the consequences of it ever since. The time away has allowed him to reflect on what happened and focus on his life away from racing.
— Dylan Groenewegen (@GroenewegenD) March 12, 2021
He has had to deal with death threats and hate mail in the wake of the crash, and has spent time speaking with a therapist.
As Jakobsen has clearly been affected by the experience, it also seems that Groenewegen has been altered by it. How could you not be?
How it will affect him as a rider will only be known when he starts competing again but his comments since last August have been compassionate and remorseful.
“My life was turned upside down for a while,” Groenewegen said, according to Dutch website Wielerflits. “It will always stay with us … In the beginning I thought about it all day, non-stop. I also heard the bang from the crash all day long. If I even heard a bang, it was a bit of a shock.
“Soon after, the team hired a psychologist with whom I talked a lot. That worked very well. As the days and weeks progressed, opinions turned slightly, and I also received a lot of messages from riders and colleagues. That did something to me.”
Riding the Giro d’Italia is a bigger comeback route than he and the team had initially planned for, but it could be good for him as he looks to assimilate himself within the bunch.
Spending the best part of a month with most of the same riders will allow him the opportunity he needs to start building bridges.
Three weeks of high-octane racing at the Giro d’Italia will be a shock to the system after nine months without competition. However, regaining the trust of his peers in the peloton and also the fans may prove a bigger challenge for Groenewegen and will take time.
Respect is hard earned in the peloton but it seems that some of his competitors are ready to welcome him.
In Groenewegen’s favor is that Jakobsen returned to racing earlier this month at the Tour of Turkey. While he still has not recovered fully from that fateful incident last August, his future as a professional cyclist appears to be relatively certain.
The pair also sat down with each other this month to discuss the issue, which may help to dissipate any animosity between Groenewegen and Jakobsen’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammates.
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“We sat opposite each other in a small room in Amsterdam. We both got to vent our hearts out a bit,” Groenewegen told the press of their meeting. “It was a nice conversation, but I prefer to keep the content to myself.
“Most importantly, Fabio can race again. That also makes it a bit easier for him to talk to me. It is not the case that we have coffee together now. We did not in the past either, but we can now look ahead as sportsmen again.”
Groenewegen is unlikely to receive the same rapturous welcome in Turin that Jakobsen did but there will be fans, teams and riders happy to see him racing again. Equally, there will be those that won’t be pleased with his return.
With his Giro d’Italia return, Groenewegen has an opportunity to show that the Tour of Poland incident was a mistake.
While it was awful to watch, he shouldn’t be written off for one incident and deserves this second chance.