Dylan Groenewegen on the crash, death threats, guilt, and returning to the peloton
The Tour of Poland was one of the first races after the COVID-19 break. In Katowice, where the organizers of the Tour of Poland had designed a parcours with a downhill sprint, things went horribly wrong at speeds of over 80 kilometres an hour.
Fabio Jakobsen went head-to-head with Dylan Groenewegen. Groenewegen deviated from his line, both riders lost their balance and Jakobsen crashed into the barriers. Jakobsen was brought to hospital where he was in a coma and doctors feared for his life. After a long recovery period he rejoined his Deceuninck-Quickstep team in Spain for a training camp in January. Groenewegen is suspended for nine months by the UCI and will be eligible to ride again in May.
On Christmas eve, almost five months after that terrible day in Katowice, Poland, Dylan Groenewegen gave his first extensive interview to the Dutch Helden Magazine. It was published today in the Netherlands. Groenewegen explains what he remembers from that sprint, about the threats he and his family received and his wish to come back in the peloton to sprint against Jakobsen again.
“It was never my intention to hurt anyone. It happened subconsciously,” Groenewegen tells Helden Magazine. “I don’t remember most of that sprint. I may have subconsciously blocked it from my memory. We knew it was a fast finish and I started my sprint early because at those speeds you knew we would soon be at the line. I tried to be as aerodynamic as I could with my head down. I didn’t mean to deviate. I never intended to. Everything went so fast. It was a split second when we both lost our balance. I crashed with 80 kilometers an hour too. The impact of my crash [and everything around me] resulted in a shock. I lost what happened after that.”
Groenewegen rewatched the images, although it was difficult at the beginning. He also had to watch the images because the UCI organized a hearing which resulted in a nine-month suspension. It’s a punishment Groenewegen accepts to be able to move on.
Fabio Jakobsen was the most serious victim of the crash but Groenewegen stresses there were other victims too, like Eduard Prades and Marc Sarreau, who both messaged him. He received many positive reactions from the peloton including from teammates of Jakobsen. The reactions from others were not as uplifting and supportive. Groenewegen, his girlfriend Nine and his parents received threats that were so serious they got police protection for weeks.
“We received handwritten letters in the post,” Groenewegen says to Helden Magazine. “One of those letters contained a noose we should use to hang our future child [Nine was expecting their first child at the time]. Nine also got messages she should leave me but also from people who wished a miscarriage on her. My parents received threats and insults at their bike shop. It all went way too far and I went to the police. The fact we got protection shows the seriousness of the threats.”
Groenewegens father received a threat he would be run off the road if he was training with Dylan behind the scooter. When Groenewegen felt ready to ride again he did so in anonymous, black clothes instead of his Jumbo-Visma team kit.
“It finally became quieter towards the end of 2020 but in the beginning it was hard going outside on my bike. One time there was a car honking behind me. My heartrate went up and I had to sit in the grass to compose myself. The police did surveillances around our home for over a month but thankfully never had to act,” Groenewegen says.
Emotions ran high after the incident. Patrick Lefevere, the Deceuninck-Quickstep manager, tweeted shortly after the crash that it was a murder attempt and that Groenewegen should be in jail.
“I find it hard to react to that. Everyone has their emotions at a time like that. I understood later that Lefevere had just heard that Fabio wouldn’t make it through the night. That is a horrible thing to hear. It’s understandable someone reacts like that and I have to accept it.”
Shortly after the crash, Groenewegen said he would never pick up his bike again but that changed after a few weeks. They enjoyed the pregnancy and looked forward to their first child.
“We stayed at home for a while and withdrew from the world. I didn’t want anything to do with cycling. I didn’t follow it or watch it on tv, even though my teammates were doing so well. My bike was in the garage but I didn’t want to see it. Even when Nine asked me to pick something up from the garage I couldn’t bear going in there. Then my mum sent me a picture of me as a six-year-old and that made me think back of the fun I had on the bike and how much I love it. After seven weeks I went into the garage. Seeing the bike hurt at first but I am finding the joy again. In early winter, my dad showed up at our house with the scooter and for four hours I rode behind him with a huge smile on my face.”
Groenewegen hopes to gain his place back in the bunch. He also hopes to sprint against Jakobsen again.
“I naturally felt guilty because of what I did. It doesn’t feel right to have deviated from my line and I do blame myself. I try to reconstruct what happened and what I thought during that sprint. Why I did it? I will never forget that day in my life and will always think: could I do this again. I contacted Fabio twice after the crash. If he wanted to answer the message or delete it was up to him. He thanked me for the message and said he was working hard on his recovery. I hope that we can look each other in the eyes again in the future. That is my biggest wish at the moment,” Groenewegen concludes.