Dylan Groenewegen starts 2023 under pressure to win at 'home race' Saudi Tour

Dutchman and his Jayco AlUla team seek to impress new title sponsors on the roads of AlUla

Dylan Groenewegen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dylan Groenewegen is a man that knows he needs to deliver this week at the Saudi Tour.

The Dutchman, now into his second year with the newly renamed Jayco AlUla, might seem relaxed and confident heading into 2023, but his team, and its Saudi Arabian backers, expect big things at their "home" race.

“I hope to win at least one stage here this week,” Groenewegen said on Sunday, at the race's opening press conference. “This would be important for our new sponsors, but also for the team. It’s always nice to start the season with a win.”

The Australian team, formerly known as BikeExchange-Jayco, Mitchelton-Scott, and Orica-GreenEdge, is now Jayco AlUla, taking the second half of its name from the northern Saudi city which is hoping to become the byword for luxury travel, with the help of a Royal Commission.

The organisation's chief destination marketing officer, effectively the man who brought the Saudi Tour to AlUla, and invested in the Jayco team, Phillip James Jones, did not mince his words when it came to laying out his expectations for Groenewgen.

"Dylan, no pressure, but we expect at least one stage win," he said on Sunday.

This might have been delivered in jest, but there is meaning behind it: for the half-AlUla team to win in AlUla, it would be a perfect start to the new, enhanced relationship.

"No, nothing" was what Groenewegen said when asked if there was pressure on him to win a stage, but it is there, one can feel it, as the Tour begins with a flat stage one on Monday.

Fortunately, the Dutch sprinter has form at this race, winning two stages of the 2022 edition, back when AlUla was just a sleeve sponsor for the BikeExchange-Jayco team.

“There are a lot of strong riders to support me this year. They believe in me, and I believe in them,” he 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.”

To support Groenewegen, the team has brought in Austrian Lukas Pöstlberger from Bora-Hansgrohe, and the Czech classics specialist Zdenek Štybar from Quick-Step, who will help them alongside leadout man Luka Mezgec, himself a useful sprinter.

The organisation consistently stressed the fact that the Saudi Tour was the perfect vehicle for tourism, Jones calling it a "global platform" to showcase the desert landscape of AlUla to the world, and through its connection now with the team, an AlUla rider crossing the line first in AlUla might just be the perfect advert.

Now, over to the Jayco team. Groenewegen had a solid, if not spectacular, 2022, winning seven races, including a stage at the Tour de France, the main goal for a sprinter of his calibre.

After a tumultuous couple of years, which saw him suspended from racing after being judged to cause the serious crash which left Fabio Jakobsen in a coma at the Tour of Poland in 2020, and a move from Jumbo-Visma to the Australian squad, it seems that he is in a good place to get back to winning ways. First race, and he could win multiple stages.

“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.”

"We are here to win some stages, that’s why we are here."

As for the Saudi Tour, there are a few riders in the way of his coronation as the fastest sprinter in the desert. Pascal Ackermann (UAE Emirates), Simone Consonni and Max Walscheid (Cofidis), Cees Bol (Astana-Qazaqstan), and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) are all present, and itching to notch their first win of the season.

“The level is high, but it’s also the riders. If riders are good, the level will be high,” Groenewegen said. “You have some wind, some uphill finishes, some sprints. It’s a good way to start the season.”

Jayco has had a good start to the season, winning a stage of the Tour Down Under, its other home race, through Simon Yates, and although detailed plans to guide Michael Matthews to victory have not worked yet, it seems like a team full of renewed optimism. Renewed finances too, thanks to the AlUla sponsorship.

“It [the Saudi Tour] feels like a little bit like a home race,” Groenewegen said. “The people are excited to see us. We are coming here with good condition after some training camps. Everyone is excited to win again.”

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.