Groenewegen easing into classics career

Dylan Groenewegen is tackling the spring classics this year, but is doing so without pressure.

WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — The most successful sprinter of 2018 so far is in classics country this week. One month after claiming Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, LottoNL-Jumbo’s Dylan Groenewegen is back in Belgium for Gent-Wevelgem.

His biggest results so far as an elite-level pro have come in bunch kicks, with a win in the Tour de France finale on the Champs-Élysées putting him on the proverbial map as a big-time sprint contender. The Dutchman showed his promise as a prospect, however, with a runner-up result in the under-23 Ronde van Vlaanderen back in 2013. Not satisfied with a second place, he came back the following year to win the U23 race outright.

Groenewegen has his sights set on contending in cycling’s biggest one-day races sooner or later. With Lars Boom missing this classics campaign as he works his way back to racing shape following surgery to fix a cardiac arrhythmia, this spring would seem the perfect opportunity for Groenewegen. Nevertheless, he’s not overhyping his chances at the moment.

“It’s a hard race, eh, with small hills and also the Kemmelberg. I hope I can survive that and sprint for the win,” he said ahead of the sprinter-friendly Gent-Wevelgem, where he starts as one of the bookies’ top favorites.

His big engine will come in handy on the cobbles, but Groenewegen knows he has work to do if he wants to stay with the top names on the tougher bergs in Flanders. Would he like to win a race like De Ronde? Sure, but he’s not spending too much training capital on tweaking his skillset at the moment.

“I’m not working on that,” Groenewegen admitted when asked if he was trying to broaden his skillset to stay in the mix for the top classics. “I’m riding grand tours, the Tour de France, and hopefully I’ll get stronger every year, and then the classics will go well.”

At the moment, Groenewegen is hoping to be in the mix for the classics that come down to a bunch kick. LottoNL-Jumbo may not be among the first teams that come to mind as masters of the lead out, but the team has made big strides over the past several months, as evidenced by Groenewegen’s wins so far this year.

The 24-year-old claimed a stage at the Dubai Tour and two in the Volta ao Algarve before his win in Kuurne. He then sprinted to a WorldTour win in the second stage of Paris-Nice. He’s relying on that fast kick as his potential path to victory at Gent-Wevelgem. The race has gone to an attacker for three seasons running, but it has traditionally been friendly to the sprinters.

“My sprint is my good point. I’ll try to sprint today. I think maybe it’s going to be a sprint from a small group, and then it’s on me to sprint for the win,” Groenewegen said.

LottoNL-Jumbo is looking to Timo Roosen as the main option for a harder race. However, considering the sunshine in Flanders on Sunday – a big change from recent years at Gent-Wevelgem – this could be the chance for the fast finishers to reclaim the lone WorldTour cobbled classic that has traditionally belonged to them.

The winner of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne seems as strong a bet as any for the race. He pointed out that Quick-Step’s Elia Viviani has also had a terrific start to the year, but Groenewegen did top the Italian in their lone WorldTour matchup at Paris-Nice earlier this month.

Neither has won a major cobbled classic to this point in their careers, but Gent-Wevelgem is the best opportunity the calendar offers to get that all-important first title. Either way, Groenewegen will also line up for Dwars door Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix as well. He is not currently on the provisional start list for the Tour of Flanders.

He was fifth at Dwars last season, winning the bunch sprint behind four escapees. Improving on that, and making a dent in the bigger classics, are definitely on Groenewegen’s mind. If he can put his hefty legs to work on the rough northern European terrain the way he has in the sprints these past several months, his prospects are promising.

“I like the classics, and I like racing in Belgium too, he said. “For the future, it’s important for me.”