Dylan Groenewegen celebrates his stage 5 victory at the 2022 Saudi Tour with new teammate Luka Mezgec.

Groenewegen’s winning debut bodes well for new era with BikeExchange-Jayco

Dylan Groenewegen and Luka Mezgec get their productive partnership underway with two stage wins at the Saudi Tour.

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Sprinter Dylan Groenewegen made his debut for BikeExchange-Jayco at the Saudi Tour this week, finding success on stages 3 and 5 after faltering at stage 1’s first opportunity. Two out of five stage wins also rewarded the Dutchman his first point’s classification jersey of the season.

“The boys did a really good job, they’ve learned really soon and have tried to do things as good as possible and now we have two victories,” Groenewegen said in the team’s stage 5 report. “I think it’s two out of three, so it’s really nice.”

The five-stage race, ranked 2.1, had opportunities for sprinters and rouleurs, with three flat finishes that would provide the perfect testing ground for newly formed and slightly adjusted sprint trains. Stage 4’s flat finish also held opportunity, but crosswinds and a tricky finale rewarded attackers.

Arguably the biggest sprinters in attendance were Caleb Ewan and Groenewegen, and both had changes to contend with, Ewan adding classics and lead-out specialist Rüdiger Selig (formerly Bora-Hansgrohe) to his arsenal, and Groenewegen adjusting to an entirely new team.

Groenewegen was unable to do better than 12th on stage 1, as Ewan surged to a first victory of the season, but the Dutchman and his team evidently learned some valuable lessons from their first run-out. On Thursday’s stage 3, Groenewegen held firm on the experienced wheel of Luka Mezgec who led the bunch into the last kilometre, ready for the sprinter to fling himself off the wheel and into full flight.

Dylan Groenewegen narrowly beats Caleb Ewan to take stage 3 victory at the 2022 Saudi Tour.

“It’s really amazing to win in my first race,” Groenewegen said in the team’s stage 3 report. “We tried something on the first day but it didn’t work well, but everybody is really strong so today we made a new plan. The finish was really hard but in the end, everyone was there in the small group, we did a really good lead-out and I only sprinted for 100m so thanks to the team and it is incredible that I can give them the win for their help today.

“It’s only the second sprint for me this year, but it feels like we are already working together for two years.”

With a repeat of stage 3’s AlUla finish on the final day, the pair turned to a different page of the playbook but managed the same result, this time letting Danny van Poppel’s Bora-Hansgrohe – another new line-up – lead the way. Mezgec and Groenewegen looked like a finely tuned machine as they powered down the last kilometre, the Slovenian checking in with his new leader before dropping him off to take the team’s second win of the week.

“We lost each other a little bit, but in the final we found each other and Luka and me came together on the roundabout,” Groenewegen said. “It was a really good job from the team, they put me in a really good position in the end, I think maybe 200 metres before the finish, Luka put me in position, he made a really good move to go to the right and I had some space to go very well and very free, so it was a good sprint.”

Groenewegen and BikeExchange-Jayco celebrate winning stage 5 of the Saudi Tour.

Groenewegen’s transfer from Jumbo-Visma to BikeExchange-Jayco this winter was at first surprising, but it was soon recognised as being a logical move for all parties. One thing that did stand out though was that the Dutchman came with no entourage – like the crew Peter Sagan took with him to TotalEnergies – not even a lead-out lieutenant to guide him through pastures new.

However, Mezgec was ready and waiting; the Slovenian must have had a good idea what his 2022 might look like the minute he heard the four-time Tour de France stage-winner was on his way. Mezgec has worked for many a prolific winner in the past, including Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb in the Argos/Giant-Shimano days, and more recently Caleb Ewan before he left the Australian outfit for Lotto Soudal in 2019. 

Mezgec is himself a proven winner, the sort of lead-out man who can take over sprint duties should the leader fall by the wayside, as he did at the 2014 Giro d’Italia where he stepped in after Kittel’s withdrawal and took the final stage into Trieste.

That Giro stage was the 11th of 19 total career wins (so far), many of them in situations where he was able to freelance through a reduced pack or out-sprint a worn-out bunch. For instance, Friday’s stage 4 of the Saudi Tour, when Mezgec climbed brilliantly and battled his way through crosswinds, before winning the sprint for second from a reduced group.

Luka Mezgec out-sprints Tim Declercq to take second behind solo winner Maxim Van Gils (Lotto Soudal) on stage 4 of the 2022 Saudi Tour.

As for the number of victories the Slovenian has helped others achieve, that number would take some time to calculate… In short, Mezgec has the characteristics to be one of the best lead-out riders in the peloton, and he’s clearly linking up well with his team’s new recruit at this early stage.

Groenewegen will hope for repeated success at the UAE Tour, his WorldTour debut in BikeExchange-Jayco colours, where a stellar field of sprinters is slated to compete. So early in the season, we can expect more experimenting from the Groenewegen camp as he builds towards a return to the Tour de France this summer. But yes, Mezgec is already expected to join him.

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