Groenewegen and Jakobsen want to separate their stories

The best way to separate their narratives? Keep winning stages.

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There’s some kind of cosmic appropriateness in Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen, two names uttered in tandem for the better part of two years, taking Tour de France stage wins within 25 hours of each other.

Maybe those two wins can finally pull apart their intertwined stories, stuck together since the Tour of Poland in 2020. Maybe tit-for-tat headlines and comeback narrative can turn into a rivalry on the road. Or maybe they don’t want a rivalry at all.

Both riders seem desperate for separation. Jakobsen, clearly tired, told reporters after stage 3 that he used to admire Groenewegen, “kind of looked up to him a bit,” but that’s now “completely gone.” He added: “It’s nice for him to win, but it doesn’t really affect me.”

I am reminded of a certain Mad Men meme.

Saturday was Jakobsen’s first Tour de France stage win in only his second Tour de France stage. The night of the Poland crash his team boss, Patrick Lefevere, was told he wouldn’t make it through the night.

Groenewegen’s last Tour stage win came in 2019. He served a nine-month ban after the Poland crash, dealt with death threats to himself and his family. He changed teams, leaving the Dutch media circus of Jumbo-Visma behind. He’s had a fair amount to overcome as well.

Both riders gave long interviews in the aftermath of Poland. Jakobsen was largely magnanimous, though not completely, noting that Groenewegen never personally apologized and making it clear that the relationship was not repaired. Groenewegen publicly shouldered the blame and seemed to struggle with the weight of his proximity to the near-death of a fellow racer. Both showed their humanity, and continue to.

These narratives have dominated coverage of both riders for two years. You can see it weighs on them. On Sunday, in his winner’s press conference, Groenewegen pivoted quickly when asked about his own return to the top. No mention of the crash or of his long return. Just an acknowledgement that he’s glad to be back. “Of course, this one has a story,” he said of the win, without saying outright what that story might be. “It means a lot to me that I was back in the Tour de France.”

There’s a difference between rivalry and simply being rivals. Every rider is a rival of every other, in some sense. A true rivalry becomes its own entity, an amorphous blob of click-worthy headlines and testy quotes layered over top of athletic conflict that begins to take on a life of its own. Rivalry begins to supercede the individuals themselves.

That’s clearly what both these riders want to avoid. They don’t want rivalry built on an incident Jakobsen can’t remember and Groenewegen would like to forget. Talk about the bike racing, they beg with their answers. Discuss the tactics of the final kilometer, the strength of their respective leadouts. Who’s the best sprinter?

We haven’t had a head-to-head between the two yet at this Tour. Groenewegen made positioning errors on Saturday and Jakobsen got swamped in the headwind on Sunday. But it feels inevitable now that the two will be lunging to the line side-by-side at some point. The more times that happens, the further in the rearview mirror the Poland crash will fall. The cycle of crash, blame, and comeback narrative will wind down and end. Every sprint stage is another opportunity to finally pull their two stories apart.

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