Dylan Groenewegen enjoys redemption to win stage three of Tour de France

A day after the QuickStep rider Fabio Jakobsen completed his long comeback from life-threatening injuries to win stage two of the Tour de France, the rider widely blamed for the infamous crash in the 2020 Tour of Poland, Dylan Groenewegen, had his own moment of redemption, the Team BikeExchange rider winning stage three from Vejle to Sønderborg.

As the Tour’s exuberant sojourn in Denmark came to an end, so did the mental torture of Groenewegen, vilified over the Jakobsen crash to the extent that at one point he even needed police protection after receiving death threats. In another chaotic sprint finish, Jakobsen, and overall Tour leader, Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) fought for supremacy, but neither were in full control of the sprint as the peloton closed on the line and Groenewegen’s speed edged him ahead of Van Aert.

Groenewegen’s journey back from his involvement in Jakobsen’s life-threatening crash in the Tour of Poland has been long and tortuous. Plagued by guilt over his role in Jakobsen’s injuries, he doubted that he would ever regain the competitive instincts that had once made him one of the sport’s fastest sprinters.

“It was a long way [back],” Groenewegen said after his win. “I want to say thanks to my team, to my family and friends. It’s beautiful. Mentally, but not physically, it was hard [coming back]. This is for my wife and my son.”

The 2020 crash in a downhill sprint left Jakobsen in an induced coma, with multiple severe cranial and facial injuries. “I kept losing consciousness, slipping in and out,” he recalled after he recovered. “Every time I thought: ‘This is it, now I am going to die.’ This happened 50 maybe, 100 times. I didn’t die, but it felt like that. These were the longest days of my life.”

But although Groenewegen sustained a broken collarbone, his main injuries were mental – he endured post-traumatic stress and at one point spoke of retiring from the sport. The crash, he said, was something that he would “always remember”. Cycling’s leading team managers and riders also rounded on him. “They should throw him in prison,” Jakobsen’s team boss, Patrick Lefevere, said of Groenewegen in the immediate aftermath.

The win on Sunday was his first at cycling’s World Tour level for two years, revealing the struggle the Dutchman has had to regain his competitive edge. At the time, Groenewegen said that the 2020 crash would forever be a “black page” in his career. “The consequences were very unfortunate and serious. I am very aware of that and I hope this has been a wise lesson for every sprinter. I follow the news of Fabio’s recovery very closely. I can only hope that one day he will return completely.”

Despite attempts to fully reconcile the pair, relations remain fragile, but two years on, both are competing on their best form in the hothouse of the Tour and will clearly be rivals in the sprint stages to come. The stage itself continued the party atmosphere that has followed the Tour around Denmark.

Another day of uneventful racing was characterised by a festival atmosphere, but saw little of note, beyond the local hero Magnus Cort (EF Education EasyPost) setting off on another lone sortie to clinch the lead in the King of the Mountains classification, before the convoy transferred to northern France. With the final available mountain points in the bag, Cort was caught by the peloton with 52 kilometres to go and gradually the speed rose, as did the tension.

A mass crash at 10 kilometres to go, caused by a pinch point in the road, split the field, but most of the major contenders, racing near the front of the peloton, escaped unscathed. Others, among the Tour’s past illuminati, did lose time, with Chris Froome (Israel-Premier-Tech), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education EasyPost) among those to lose ground in the overall standings. Expect to see all three veterans in breakaway moves when the peloton reaches the mountains.

Up ahead, the sprinters flew into the final kilometre. Although all stayed upright there were the usual recriminations, with former world champion Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) exchanging harsh words with Van Aert as the pair crossed the line. “I cannot judge, we have a jury for that,” Sagan said of his tangle with his rival. “I am happy that I am still here in one piece.”

The race leader Van Aert, meanwhile, headed for the flight to France with a yellow jersey in his suitcase and the souvenir of a hat-trick of second places, after narrowly missing out on winning stages one, two and three. “It’s not funny any more,” Van Aert said although, Sagan or no Sagan, he is likely to make amends soon.