Dylan Groenewegen bracing for Mark Cavendish showdown: ‘He is smarter than everyone in the peloton’

Groenewegen on Tour de France record: 'If we do not win, let’s hope that Mark is the winner.'

Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images

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Dylan Groenwegen is bracing for a high-stakes sprint showdown with Mark Cavendish this year, and expects to lock horns with him all season long as the British star chases the all-time stage victory record at the Tour de France.

Groenewegen — hot off winning one stage at his season debut at the Saudi Tour — knows Cavendish will be in the mix even if there’s a lot of talk that Astana-Qazaqstan doesn’t have a long history of delivering sprinters to the line.

“I think Mark knows what to do. He is smarter than everyone in the peloton,” Groenewegen told VeloNews. “He can even win with bad legs.”

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Long gone are the days of one major sprinter dominating every sprint stage with a powerful leadout train, and Groenewegen said he expects Cavendish to exploit that.

“He can go in the slipstream and ride off other sprinters’ trains. That is his big talent, and then he is quick on the end,” Groenewegen said to FloBikes and VeloNews at the Saudi Tour. “For him, it’s more important that he can do the race than if he has a really strong team around him.”

The Jayco-AlUla star said he’s relishing the chance to take on Cavendish and the rest of the peloton’s top sprinters.

Groenewegen is one of many in a deeper field at the top of the sprinter hierarchy as most teams are bringing mixed squads, meaning that fleetest riders don’t see more than a few teammates to set them up.

“There is no best sprinter anymore. There are a lot of good sprinters right now,” he said. “When you have a big sprint, there are five or six riders who are there. It’s all at the same level, and we can all beat each other. It’s the small details that help you win or make you lose.”

Groenewegen will clash with Cavendish at the UAE Tour and again across the spring and early summer calendar at select races before returning to the Tour.

Cavendish is tied with Eddy Merckx with 34 stage victories at the Tour de France. The hype will only grow as the season pushes closer to July.

Luka Mezgec: ‘Cavendish will have a challenging year’

Groenewegen is confident in his train in his second full season at Jayco-AlUla. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

Groenewegen counts on the help of Luka Mezgec, newcomer Zdenek Stybar, and Luke Durbridge to give him the leadout.

In contrast, Cavendish will have to build his train from scratch. Cees Bol is likely slotting into the role of leadout man at Asana-Qazaqstan, but the pair hasn’t raced together yet. Cavendish will debut at the Tour of Oman this week.

Jayco-AlUla’s Mezgec sees that as a disadvantage for Cavendish, who did not bring any designated riders with him in the deal to join Astana, but was quick to add that Cavendish is also a master at playing off other rivals’ trains.

“Mark Cavendish will have a quite challenging year,” Mezgec said. “He is joining the team without bringing any leadout guys with him. They have good guys there, but he will need some races to get the train going. But we know Cav can always surprise and you can never write him off.

“If you have every race the same five guys working together there is plenty of opportunities, and enough time to get the train going before the Tour,” Mezgec said. “It depends on the team. If they start changing the teammates, it’s a bit harder.

“Especially with these races here in the Middle East, and the road is wide, so if it’s just fine-tuning and reading the bunch, these races are good to learn.”

Groenewegen: ‘If we do not win, let’s hope that Mark is the winner’

Dylan Groenewegen, a winner at the Saudi Tour, is relishing the chance to sprint against Mark Cavendish. (Photo: Andrew Hood/VeloNews)

Groenewegen cited Soudal Quick-Step, Bora-Hansgrohe, and Intermarché-Circus-Wanty as the peloton’s top trains right now.

Even in the ego-fueled, argy-bargy world of sprints, Groenewegen had some nice words to say about Cavendish.

“For me he is the best sprinter ever, there is nobody better than him,” Groenewegen said. “It would be hard to do the same that he does, a big chapeau to him.

“When he’s motivated he’s hard to beat. Last year at the Giro, he did some really good sprints. If we do not win, let’s hope that Mark is the winner. He is a big winner in the sport, and he is the best sprinter.

“I never had a big idol, but if there is somebody who I have big respect for me, it’s Mark,” Groenewegen said. “His motivation and attitude, he is so angry when he doesn’t win, and happy when he does win. For me, he is the big sprinter in cycling.”

Last year, Jayco-AlUla won twice and finished second three times at the Tour.

The team is intent on tilting those odds in their favor. The team certainly won’t be hitting the brakes to let Cavendish win, or anyone else.

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