If winning down the Champs Élysées is the unofficial sprinter’s world championships, then what does that make Olav Kooij?
The 20-year-old Dutch sensation out-kicked Jasper Philipsen, the rider who won in Paris last month, to take the flowers in Tuesday’s opening stage at the Tour de Denmark.
Of course, no one is going to confuse the opening stage in the national tour one of Europe’s flattest nations against a mixed field to racing three full weeks battling the elite at the Tour de France and then having the horsepower to win the most prestigious stages of the year for sprinters.
Yet Kooij’s victory Tuesday with Jumbo-Visma is the latest signal that a new force is elbowing his way into the bunch sprinter’s hierarchy.
“The goal was to win a stage and if it works right away at the first chance, that’s great,” Kooij said Tuesday.
The WorldTour rookie’s already packed 10 victories onto his budding palmarès so far in his first full season with Jumbo-Visma, and there’s a feeling that things are just starting.
With 10 wins, Kooij is ranked fourth in the 2022 season among the elite men’s peloton. Among the sprinters, only Fabio Jakobsen has more with 12 wins, while Tadej Pogačar won 13 times and Remco Evenepoel 11 times so far in 2022.
Beating the Champs-Elysees winner like that is pretty damn impressive, especially for a 20-year old. 🎩 Olav Kooij won the opening stage of Tour of Denmark in Køge after a superb sprint against Jasper Philipsen. His 10th victory of the season! #PNDKR22 pic.twitter.com/dfuPsOqThL
— Mihai Simion (@faustocoppi60) August 16, 2022
Jumbo-Visma clearly brings more confidence in its ever-improving sprinter.
Kooij raced on the team’s development squad, raced as a stagiaire at the end of last season, and jumped to the WorldTour team this season after finishing third in the U23 road worlds in Flanders last fall.
His debut this spring foreshadowed better things to come. He was second to Philipsen in a stage at the UAE Tour in February, and faced off against an elite field of Milan-San Remo-bound sprinters at Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing second in one stage to Tim Merlier, and third behind Caleb Ewan and Arnaud Démare in another.
After an impressive classics debut, including fifth at the Brugge-De Panne, his first big wins came at the Circuit de la Sarthe in April, where he won two stages and the overall in the four-stage French race.
He won another stage at the Tour de Hongrie, and then blasted through June’s ZLM Tour like a knife through butter, winning three of five stages (finishing second in the other two), the overall, the points, and the young riders’ jersey.
At 6-foot-3, Kooij towers over the field
Kooij was one of the leading recruits when Jumbo-Visma created its development squad in 2020.
Like Kooij, many of the team’s riders that week at the ZLM Tour are products of Jumbo-Visma’s development. Others stepping up include Mick Van Dijke and Michel Hessmann.
“This week underpins that we are doing well with a view to the future. Men like Michel, Olav, Tim, Mick, and Lars all come from the development team,” said sport director Robert Wagner in June. “It is nice to see that the work we have put into these guys over the past two and a half years has been effective. Not only for the riders but also for the team and the training program.”
At 6-foot-3, Kooij packs a huge engine to generate the speed needed to win a bunch sprint.
His rise comes at a good time for Jumbo-Visma, who let homegrown Dylan Groenewegen leave for BikeExchange-Jayco this season after it was obvious that the team’s GC ambitions meant there would not be any room for a sprinter during the Tour.
That bet paid off for Jumbo-Visma, which earned its first yellow jersey in franchise history with Jonas Vingegaard in a dominant performance last month in France.
Any conflict of interest between the team’s Tour ambitions and Kooij’s rising fortunes will still be a few seasons off.
Kooij isn’t racing a grand tour in his rookie season, and will likely race the Giro d’Italia next May.
Until then, he’s quickly showing he’s adept at moving around the bunch. Earning his first WorldTour-level stage at the Tour de Pologne, Kooij is proving he can sprint against the best.
“It’s always a great feeling when you cross the finish line first”, Kooij said last month. “It is my first victory in a WorldTour race and it is a nice bonus that I get to wear the yellow leader’s jersey. The goal was to get at least one stage win. It’s a great feeling that we managed to do that in the opening stage.”
In a reflection of the team’s growing confidence in its budding star, Jumbo-Visma brought a solid leadout train to support him at the Tour of Denmark this week.
“Tosh Van der Sande and Mick are now also the right men to put Olav in the right position in the final kilometer,” said sport director Matt Reef. “In addition, Christophe will also be involved in the battle. With his experience, he can prove invaluable to Olav.
“With Olav, we will go for the bunch sprint stages. Looking at the course, he is likely to get two chances this week.”
Kooij delivered his part Tuesday, and with the race tackling a time trial Wednesday, he cooled his jets for the next sprint opportunity this week.
Up next is the Deutschland Tour in Germany. Forecasters are calling for another victory before the month is out.