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ALULA, Saudi Arabia (VN) — Dylan Groenewegen is starting his 2023 season ready to impress.
The Dutch sprinter debuts Monday in the five-day Saudi Tour with pressure to win one for new team co-sponsor AlUla, the tourism project that’s promoting the region around Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site at Hegra.
For sprinters, the only thing that counts is a victory.
After winning two stages here last year, Groenewegen won’t be happy if he doesn’t go home with at least one “W” this week to open his 2023 book.
“I hope to win at least one stage here this week,” Groenewegen said Sunday. “This would be important for our new sponsors, but also for the team. It’s always nice to start the season with a win.”
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The 29-year-old Groenewegen admits he feels more at home on the team as he pedals into his second full season in Jayco-AlUla colors. Last winter, he was a late-season addition to the Australian-backed team with pressure to deliver wins.
Groenewegen lived up to his end of the bargain, with seven victories and one very important stage win at the Tour de France. A string of late-season top-5s helped seal the team’s WorldTour future.
Though his 2022 victory haul was far from his prolific runs in 2018 and 2019, finding his groove with his new team was an important milestone for Groenewegen last year.
“There are a lot of strong riders to support me this year. They believe in me, and I believe in them,” Groenewegen said. “I learned from the mistakes, and I learned from the good things we did last year. We are looking forward to doing some big things this season.”
Building a new train at Jayco-AlUla
On Sunday, a smiling and relaxed Groenewegen hobnobbed and mingled with VIPs at a pre-race function ahead of Monday’s start of the Saudi Tour.
Groenewegen’s demeanor reflects his fresh attitude coming into 2023.
It’s been a few traumatic seasons for Groenewegen, who burst onto the top scene six years ago as one of the most explosive sprinters in the bunch.
Last season saw Groenewegen put the trauma of the 2020 Tour of Poland crash finally behind him. Winning a stage at the 2022 Tour was intensely emotional and personal for the Dutch rider.
Jumbo-Visma, where he raced for six seasons from 2016-2021, cut him loose in part because the team was committed to winning the yellow jersey, and didn’t have room for Groenewegen in its Tour future.
The amicable separation served both parties well. Jumbo-Visma brought its full mass to the Tour and came home with its first yellow jersey with Jonas Vingegaard.
Groenewegen found a new home at the Aussie-backed GreenEdge franchise. Groenewegen quickly felt comfortable in the laidback vibe and winning attitude of the team.
Jayco-AlUla will be working out the kinks of Groenewegen’s leadout this week in the third edition of the Saudi Tour.
Newcomers Lukas Pöstlberger and Zdenek Stybar will play their role to control the bunch, and a healthy Luka Mezgec will be ready to drive him to the line.
“It’s the first race after a hard winter and some good training camps,” Groenewegen said. “Everyone is ready to work together for some good results.”
For 2023, it’s all about building on the bases of last year, and creating early momentum. There’s no better way to do that than win.
“We are here to win some stages, that’s why we are here,” he said.
“The level is high, but it’s also the riders. If riders are good, the level will be high,” Groenewegen. “You have some wind, some uphill finishes, some sprints. It’s a good way to start the season.”
The Saudi Tour sees a few challengers lining up to make it difficult for Groenewegen. Pascal Ackermann (UAE Emirates), Simon Consonni and Max Walscheid (Cofidis), Cees Bol (Astana-Qazaqstan), and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) are also keen to open 2023 with a victory.
Healthy and ambitious, Groenewegen wants to blast out of the sands of the Saudi desert with the wind at his back.
“It feels like a little bit like a home race,” he said of the Saudi Tour and the team’s new co-sponsor. “The people are excited to see us. We are coming here with good condition after some training camps. Everyone is excited to win again.”
Confidence is everything for top sprinters.
A win in the sand, sun, and wind of Saudi Arabia will set the tone early.