Jonathan Milan 'super happy' after leaving Dylan Groenewegen's crosswinds plan in tatters at Saudi Tour

Jayco AlUla were one of the chief architects of the split, but its Dutch sprinter could not deliver on his team's work

Jonathan Milan at Saudi Tour
(Image credit: Getty)

Sometimes it is the days that look the easiest that are the hardest. At one point on stage two of the Saudi Tour, the TV coverage cut to the speedometer on the motorbike following the peloton, and it was stuck at just 20km/h - a speed the average amateur cyclist would not have a hard time keeping up with.

What this glance at the speed did not tell you was the effect a 45km/h block headwind was having on the riders, and the tension that this built, as the teams waited for the next turn, for the wind to change, for crosswinds to happen.

When the corner in the desert did come, Jayco AlUla were one of the teams that were ready to pounce, ready to create echelons and cause problems on innocuous terrain. The Australian-cum-Saudi Arabian team forced the pace, with their sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, the race leader, even appearing on the front at times, creating the split.

Out the back went Dušan Rajović of Bahrain-Victorious, second on stage one. Out the back went Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates), winner of multiple WorldTour sprints, out went John Degenkolb (UAE Team Emirates), Tour de France stage winner.

Sadly for Groenewegen and Jayco AlUla, however, it wasn’t enough, with Bahrain-Victorious’ other option, Jonathan Milan, staying in the front group, and pouncing when it mattered, winning stage two.

The Dutchman, who retained the leader’s green jersey, was visibly disappointed to miss out on a second consecutive victory, one that seemed all but set for him when the race was split open and he was so clearly the fastest man in the race on the opening day.

“I felt really strong, but I started too late, I don't know what I was waiting for,” Groenewegen said after the stage. “I came close, but not close enough.”

Asked if the green jersey was any consolation, he barely mustered up enough enthusiasm to give a vaguely positive response: “Yeah but the boys did a really good job, and they did a good lead out too. When you go too late it's a big mistake. It can happen, but we go for another victory and this is disappointing.”

Despite the result coming down to a photo finish, one which delayed Milan’s celebrations by a couple of minutes, Groenewegen clearly knew that he had missed out on the golden opportunity, back to back stages at the race in AlUla, the AlUla that is emblazoned on the front of his kit from this season.

He kept riding when he crossed the finish line, heading a further 200 metres down the road, forcing his teammates to ride to him to find the news. If the race had been 200m further, Groenewegen would have triumphed, he argued anyway. Milan, meanwhile, stayed near the finish, genuinely not knowing his fate. 

Dylan Groenewegen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The scenes of jubilation that came after the result had been transmitted over the radio were pure, and deserved. The young Italian has won before, winning two stages of the Cro Race last year, but never against a sprinter of his Dutch rival’s calibre.

“My goal was to start the new season with victories at the Saudi Tour, with the team too,” he explained. “Yesterday, we tried with Dušan [Rajović], and he finished second. We did nice team work, but I had a problem in the last kilometre with my cassette, but I then couldn't help my teammate in the final sprint. Today, we went for me, and this is a result for everybody. The whole team really supported me during this race. I'm super super happy, and thanks to my team.”

It was fascinating to see the elation and crushing disappointment so close; Groenewegen still forced to take to the stage as race leader, grimacing and bearing it, and Milan the happiest man in the world, almost overcome with the emotion of winning.

It is a reminder that these races, as bewildering as they seem, matter a lot to the people who triumph, and to the people who miss out. It is not a pointless small event, as another famous sprinter almost once said.

On the subject of things being different to how they appear, the day was tackled with much more ferocity than would appear to the television viewer; riders were spent having crossed the finish line, after first battling a headwind and then struggling to stay in contention as crosswinds made their impact.

“I think it was a hard day for everyone,” Groenewegen said. “It was not so hot, so I think it was a bit better for everyone than yesterday. It was a tough day.”

Tuesday’s stage two was proof that however good a plan is, it can come undone by a mistake at one point, as Jayco AlUla found out to its cost, while Milan showed how much a win in the middle of the desert can mean.

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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.