Two years ago Dylan Groenewegen received a noose in the post along with a note telling him it was intended for his newborn child.
On Sunday the Dutch sprinter, who was targeted by the hate mob after causing his compatriot Fabio Jakobsen to crash at 50mph at the Tour of Poland, experienced the ultimate redemption – he won stage three of the Tour de France into Sonderborg.
In truth Denmark’s three-day grand depart, which concluded with Groenewegen’s (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) win on Sunday, was not as action-packed as many had predicted or hoped.
The favourites all emerged unscathed from Friday’s wet, slippery time trial prologue in Copenhagen; the anticipated crosswinds never materialised on Saturday; and Sunday’s run from Vejle to Sonderborg was a largely tame affair, although Slovenia’s two-time champion Tadej Pogacar did come perilously close to crashing in a huge pile-up 10km from the finish.
To say that the opening stages of the 109th Tour have lacked drama or colour or rich storylines, however, would be well wide of the mark.
Not since Yorkshire in 2014 have fans turned out at a grand depart in such huge numbers. Denmark’s towns and hills positively heaved with spectators waving Danish flags. It felt at times like the entire country had come out to celebrate the biggest bike race on earth.
They roared on local favourite Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) on Sunday as he escaped off the front for a second day running, hoovering up the necessary points to stay in the polka dot jersey.
And while Cort never had a hope of staying away, and while the racing has been fairly pedestrian so far, the Tour has a habit of creating special moments and memories.
It did so again on Sunday. After Jakobsen’s hugely emotional sprint victory in Nyborg on Saturday, two years after being placed in a medically-induced coma following that crash in Poland, this time it was Groenewegen’s turn to experience redemption.
The 29 year-old copped a nine-month ban from the UCI for his part in that crash in Katowice. But worse was to follow.
“When you read that message and see that piece of rope, you are terrified,” Groenewegen told Dutch magazine Helden last year of the moment he received a hangman’s noose in the mail. “There were such concrete and serious threats that we called the police a few days after the crash.
“The following days and weeks the police guarded our door. We could not spontaneously leave the house. Of course that affects you. What kind of sick world do we live in? Getting out of bed in the morning was quite a challenge in that period.”
After coming past yellow jersey holder Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to win a tight photo finish, Groenewegen was clearly incredibly emotional. He collapsed by the finish line barriers before being lifted up by his team-mates who proceeded to link arms and bounce around in jubilation.
“This is for my wife and my son, it means a lot,” Groenewegen said later. “It’s beautiful. Not physically but mentally it’s been a hard time of course after all that happened.”
The riders will take a breather on Monday as the circus makes its way over to France. Many caught charter flights on Sunday night. Others leave today. Some in the caravan are driving the full 900km.
The British contingent will travel in decent shape. Ineos Grenadiers’ Adam Yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas lie 8th, 10th and 12th respectively after the first three stages, all three within 20 seconds of Pogacar and with everything to play for when the race resumes on Tuesday with a 171.5km fourth stage from Dunkirk to Calais.
“It’s been a little bit more chilled than previous years,” admitted Thomas of the action so far. With crosswinds again a possibility on Tuesday, and Wednesday’s stage heading over the infamous Roubaix pave, it is unlikely to remain so for long.
Groenewegen wins stage four: as it happened . . .
Groenewegen wins stage three at the Tour de France!
But it was very close. Fabio Jakobsen lost the wheel of his Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl team-mates in the final 700 metres, while Wout van Aert appeared to benefit from the work being done by Florian Sénéchal and Michael Morkov. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) punched his way through, but was unable to go all the way, while Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) tossed his hat into the ring. Jakobsen produced a late surge, but he had too much traffic ahead of him and was unable to find a way through.
But it was Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) who took the stage win after the Dutchman weaved his way through a tight speeding bunch. Not entirely sure how Groenewegen managed to do that, but somehow he poked that thread through the eye of a needle to win a four-up sprint and take his first Tour stage win since 2019.
Sagan raised a hand from his bar before gesturing in the direction of the BikeExchange-Jayco sprinter. Not sure if the three-time world champion he was unhappy with Groenewegen, but I could not see anything wrong with his sprint, certainly not in the first viewing.
Groenewegen, who was handed a nine-month ban following his involvement in the horrific crash that threatened to end Jakobsen’s career at the 2020 edition of the Tour of Poland, admitted immediately afterwards he had ‘mentally’ struggled since the incident. “It was a long way [back],” the 29-year-old said.
“I want to say thank you to my team and my family and friends for getting me back to the Tour in good shape. It’s beautiful. Not physically but mentally it’s been a hard time of course after all that happened. This is for my wife and my son, it means a lot.”
Robbie McEwen, the former sprinter who won 12 stages at the Tour along with three green jerseys and is working as a pundit for Warner Bros. Discovery, said: “This is going to be such a massive gorilla off his back that I’m hoping for him it leads to more that will help him get back to the level that he was before both physically and psychologically and we see these incredible battles between him, Jakobsen, Ewan and Van Aert because it is incredibly exciting.
“On a lot of days, it’s been impossible for Dylan Groenewegen to get himself in that mindset to not just risk himself but do anything that may bring harm to anyone else. One false move in a sprint, you can bring someone down. That’s what happened in Poland with Fabio Jakobsen and he wanted to avoid that at all costs.
“He was avoiding confrontation and risk but it was affecting his racing. When he got clear air, he would win but when it got down to shoulder to shoulder, having to establish himself as the dominant position, he would let himself get pushed back too often.
“All the work this season has been to get himself in the right position and trust himself to be the fastest,” the Australian added. There are so many mental demons that he has battled to get himself back in that sprint and it’s really nice to see.”
There were no changes in the top three of the general classification and so Van Aert kept hold of the leader’s yellow jersey and also tightened his grip on the points jersey after beating Jakobsen in both the intermediate sprint and at the finish. Van Aert leads Jakobsen by 17 points, while Groenewegen moved up to third.
Magnus Cort (EF Education-Easypost) kept hold of his polka dot jersey as leader in the mountains classification, while Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) still tops the youth classification.
Florian Sénéchal leads the way round the final bend, two Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl team-mates glued to his wheel – but worryingly Fabio Jakobsen appears to have lost drifted back a few bike lengths.
1km to go
Alexander Kristoff is trying to boss things near the front, but Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl remain in control.
2km to go
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux show themselves at the head of the field. Is this one for veteran sprinter Alexander Kristoff?
3km to go
Here come Trek-Segafredo, but Alpecin-Deceuninck and Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl are setting the pace and look to be in control.
4km to go
DSM show themselves, can Alberto Dainese add to the Giro d’Italia stage he won back in May? Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl have five riders leading the way for Fabio Jakobsen, Alpecin-Deceuninck are inching their way up the field in an effort to set up Belgian Jasper Philipsen.
5km to go
Kasper Asgreen takes over for Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, they look to be in control, but are they setting themselves up for a late ambush?
6km to go
Quinn Simmons of Trek-Segafredo tightens his shoes. Ineos Grenadiers ride down the extreme right-hand side of the road, staying out of the way of the sprinters’ teams.
7km to go
Lotto-Soudal and Caleb Ewan are marking Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl. Jumbo-Visma drill it down the left-hand side alongside the pure sprinters’ teams.
8km to go
Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl take it up on the front with Yves Lampaert pulling hard, Jumbo-Visma sidleup alongside them.
Big, big crash in the peloton . . .
It appeared that the tailend of the Jumbo-Visma team veered to their left, forcing a bit of a squeeze. A big pile-up, but I don’t think any of the general classification riders went down – and that, kids, is why you ride at the front.
11km to go
There are reports of rain at the finish line.
12km to go
Fabio Jakobsen is riding at third wheel, a couple of places up from Dylan Groenewegen. Yves Lampaert pulls on the front for Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, just ahead of French national champion Florian Sénéchal.
13km to go
Nervous times for the peloton, their backroom staff and families who will be watching from the roadside or at home on TV.
14km to go
Mads Pedersen has the perfect position, riding at fifth wheel behind four team-mates. Dylan Groenewegen, meanwhile, is sat of the right shoulder of the Trek-Segafredo boys.
15km to go
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) is sat near the back of the bunch, the Dutchman is looking supremely relaxed. I am guessing he will not be getting involved at the pointy end today. Gregor Mühlberger (Movistar) takes a bike change before the Austrian is pushed back into the race by a team mechanic.
Preview: The final 5km
Before the speeding peloton reaches the final 5km of the stage, here’s a quick look at the run-in. As you can see, the final left-hand turn comes 800 meters from the line after which it is a dead straight traditional run to the line.
20km to go
Dylan Groenewegen is in the perfect position, the Dutchman tucked in behind six BikeExchange-Jayco team-mates. Maxime Bouet (Arkéa-Samsic) hits the deck after the peloton navigates its way around some road furniture in the centre of the road. There’s a fair few pinch points on the run-in and so teams and riders will need to be on alert.
22.5km to go
Tim Wellens of Lotto-Soudal rolls off the front, while to his right-hand side Jonathan Castroviejo is tanking it at the front of a long line of Ineos Grenadiers riders, protecting team leaders Geraint Thomas and Daniel Martínez. They are giving it beans, speeding along at around 70kmh – and the racing has not started yet.
25km to go
Andrea Bagioli was just spotted dropping towards the rear of the bunch, but Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s Italian climber appears intent on getting back towards the front. Back at the head of proceedings, Trek-Segafredo have shunted themselves up towards the front, the American team no doubt hoping to set of Denmark’s Mads Pedersen who finished sixth in the opening day time trial, and third behind Fabio Jakobsen and Wout van Aert on Saturday. Is today the day the 2019 world road race champion takes his first Tour de France stage?
30km to go
Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) bares his teeth as the German national champion shield s his team-mates at the head of the pack. Lotto-Soudal, meanwhile, pass bidons around with some late refreshments. Tiesj Benoot arches his back as only Tiesj Benoot can do, with the Belgian leading the line for his Jumbo-Visma squad. Dylan van Baarle leads the way for Ineos Grenadiers, followed closely by the young apprentice Tom Pidcock.
35km to go
The peloton passed through the final feed zone of the day, bottles and musettes are taken on as riders take on some late fuel ahead of what is expected to be a frenetic finale. Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers, Bora-Hansgrohe, Groupam-FDJ and Lotto-Soudal hold the front row of the bunch which is very compact.
Ewan: Yesterday was ‘disappointing’
Caleb Ewan, who will be hoping to challenge for the stage win in a short while, has admitted he was disappointed with the finale of yesterday’s stage. The Australian, though, told the Tour de France website he is hoping for better fortune this afternoon.
“Yeah, I don’t know exactly what happened, ” he said. “When we were cresting the overpass, with like 500 metres to go, someone ran into my derailleur, and then my gears were skipping. I thought, I’ll try to get some points anyway, but then when I actually started my sprint, the chain came off between the 11 and the frame, so I couldn’t really pedal anymore. So it was a bit disappointing, to be honest.
“Yeah you know actually, I forgot what it was like racing Tour de France sprints. It’s been a little while, but yeah, they’re very hectic, and I think yesterday the whole stage was nervous. But it was good fun. ”
Stick to cycling, Mathieu
45km to go
Neilson Powless, the talented young American on the EF Education-EasyPost squad, had a puncture a few minutes ago but has subsequently chased back on and reacquainted himself with the peloton. The bunch is starting to string itself out in a long line as the speed increases.
Magnus is caught
A wave and a smile for the TV camera, and Magnus Cort is swallowed up by the peloton before the polka dot drifts back through the bunch. With a shade over 50km to go, the sprinters’ teams – Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, Lotto-Soudal, BikeExchange-Jayco and Alpecin-Deceuninck will be looking to seize control of the stage on the run-in to the line. The general classification teams, meanwhile, will be doing their best to protect their team leaders.
55km to go
As the peloton wends its way towards the business end of the stage, the head of the field bunches up as a combination of general classification and sprinters’ team jostle for prime real estate. In places the road will narrow and so nobody will want to be caught out by any pinch points or crashes, while the threat of crosswinds may have put teams on high alert.
58.4km to go
And he’s done it, Magnus Cort has taken the third and final point in the mountains classification atop the category four Côte de Genner Strand.
Cort affords himself time to punch the air in celebration before holding up three fingers to the TV cameras. Bravo that man.
65km to go
Relative calm out on the road as the sprinters’ team continue to control the pace, monitoring the gap between themselves and lone leader Magnus Cort. As it stands, that gap is: 1min 30sec.
From the archives: Inside the Wolfpack
Regardless of their unheralded status in Britain, one thing is certain: Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl is a phenomenal force. But what are the key determining factors to the success of one of the most dominant teams in world sport? Telegraph Sport visited a team training camp to look behind the scenes in the hope of discovering just that.
75km to go
Just over 15km to the third and final categorised climb of the day, the Côte de Genner Strand, Magnus Cort leads by 1min 30sec and it looks like he will be taking maximum points in the mountains classification for a second stage running. Don’t think Cort will be forgetting this weekend anytime soon.
80km to go
Following the intermediate sprint, as expected, the gap between Magnus Cort and the peloton dropped to below a minute, but that has subsequently grown out to 1min 35sec.
Cort takes maximum points; Van Aert takes second
A couple of minutes after Magnus Cort rolled through the intermediate sprint, Wout van Aert extended his lead in the points classification competition after he was led out by Jumbo-Visma team-mate Christophe Laporte. Fabio Jakobsen, who didn’t appear too bothered contesting the intermediate sprint yesterday, got involved and took third ahead of Laporte, while Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) took fifth.
92.5km to go
Magnus Cort remains out in front alone, but Jumbo-Visma have shifted a handful of their team up towards the front as Wout van Aert prepares himself to challenge for some points at the intermediate sprint. The injection in pace in the bunch will nibble away at Cort’s lead, but I suspect they will not want to rein the Dane in just yet.
Cort extends lead in the ‘mountains’
Over the top he goes, and Magnus Cort adds another point to his tally in the mountains classification atop the category four Côte de Hejlsminde Strand. The Dane has gone over all five climbs in this year’s race – all category four with one point up for grabs on each of them – and so is the only rider to have got his name on the mountains classification results sheet. The next key point in the stage will be the intermediate sprint in Christiansfeld in 8km.
110km to go
No changes out on the road, so here’s a picture of Rigoberto Urán at the sign-in earlier today in Sonderborg. The Colombian, who crashed yesterday but managed to get back in the group and lose no time on his rivals, appears to have lost none his sense of humour.
115km to go
Not a great deal has happened, Magnus Cort’s lead is being monitored by the sprinters’ teams – it is currently holding at around the 3min 45sec mark – who will be aiming to reel the Dane in before contesting a bunch gallop finish. BikeExchange-Jayco, Alpecin-Deceuninck and Lotto-Soudal all have riders up near the head of the bunch, but it is the ream of Fabio Jakobsen – Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl – who have the biggest numbers. Incidentally, Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl became the first team since the Superconfex squad in 1987 to win the opening two stage of the Tour. On that occasion Dutchman Jelle Nijdam won the Berlin prologue, before compatriot Nico Verhoeven took the opening stage the next day. No team has won the first three stages, and so the in-form sprinter Jakobsen would make a neat slice of Tour history if he were to win this afternoon.
120km to go
Unsurprisingly, the TV cameras have been focused on Kasper Asgreen for the last few minutes as the peloton taps its way through Kolding. The Dane appears to have been sharing a little bit of local knowledge with his Dutch team-mate Fabio Jakobsen.
Magnus Cort’s advantage, meanwhile, has dropped to 3min 41sec.
Asgreen: ‘I’ve been looking forward to this stage for a long time’
Kasper Asgreen, one of Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s three Danes at the Tour, will be riding though his hometown of Kolding shortly. Speaking on TV earlier, he said he was looking forward to the day.
“It’s going to be super special”, Asgreen said. “I’ve heard rumours about all the celebrations that’s going to be happening in my hometown, in the last couple of months. So I’m super excited to see everything now. It’s been my training roads for the last 12 years, so – maybe except the last 40km towards Sonderborg, that’s a bit too far south for me – but everything else I know like the back of my hand.
“I’ve been looking forward to this stage for a long time, and I’m just excited to get rolling now. I think there is a few tricky points out there where it could be an advantage to know, but I think most of the teams are so well prepared nowadays, I think most of them is going to know as well. But if there’s a small advantage it’s always nice.”
137.5km to go
Magnus Cort is just under 35km from the summit of the second climb of the day, the Côte de Hejlsminde Strand. His lead has dropped slightly to 4min 25sec, but it looks as if he should make it to the next key point in the stage on his lonesome and extend his lead in the mountains classification a little further. Incidentally, there are six points up for grabs in Tuesday’s stage – tomorrow is a rest day – and so if Cort takes the two remaining points on offer today, there is a chance he could keep the jersey until next Wednesday, or even Thursday when stage seven finishes on La Planche des Belles Filles.
Cort remains king of the hill
Not a great deal more has happened since man-of-the-moment Magnus Cort extended his lead in the mountains classification, though his lead over the peloton dropped to just under five minutes.
As it stands . . .
It will surprise few to learn that Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) attacked from the flag, the Dane going off in pursuit of the first point of the day in the mountains classification atop the Côte de Koldingvej. Nobody went with Cort, who reached the summit of the category four climb around 6min ahead of the peloton, but the EF Education-EasyPost will have had no complaints about having to ride solo. The passionate locals afforded their man a heroes welcome, with huge, huge crowds that were 10 or 15 people deep in places. Absolutely incredible scenes out in Denmark that may even put Yorkshire’s grand départ back in 2014 into the shade – former professional and proud Yorkshireman Adam Blythe said as much on Eurosport, so any angry Yorkshire types can direct their ire at him.
And welcome to our live rolling blog from the third stage of the 109th edition of the Tour de France, the 182-kilometre run from Vejle to Sonderborg, the third and final day of the Danish grand départ.
Before we have a quick look at today’s stage, let’s have a quick recap from yesterday. It was a long day with much wind forecast, although in the end the strong winds were battering the riders in their faces and so other than a few spills, there were very few thrills. Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost) crashed, as did a handful of others including then race leader Yves Lampaert (Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl), but they all regrouped with the peloton before its fast finale.
A further crash saw Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers), Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën) and four-time winner Chris Froome (Israel Premier-Tech) also go down, but fortunately for them they were in the final 3km and so were awarded the same time as those they had been alongside when the crash happened. Defending champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) was caught up behind the pile-up and hit a barrier, but later said he was “okay”.
Fabio Jakobsen (Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl) underlined why he was selected over Mark Cavendish when the Dutchman powered his way past Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to land the first Tour stage of his career. An amazing achievement coming under two years after suffering an horrific crash at the Tour of Poland that resulted in him needing reconstructive surgery. A terrifying list of injuries sustained included a skull fracture, torn palate, brain contusion, broken nose, loss of part of both his upper and lower jaw as well as 10 teeth.
Van Aert, who earned a 6sec time bonus for his runners-up spot, leapfrogged Lampaert to top spot on general classification and so will wear the leader’s jersey at the Tour for the first time.
The Belgian also took top spot in the points classification, but Jakobsen – who trails Van Aert – will wear the green jersey on his behalf.
There were just three category four climbs in Saturday’s stage, with a single point up for grabs atop each. Having got into the day’s breakaway, Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) scooped up all three and so the Dane will wear the polka dot jersey on home roads.
Pogacar kept hold of his white jersey as leading young rider, while Britain’s Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), riding his maiden Tour, trails by 17sec.
So, what’s on today’s menu?
In theory, today’s stage should be a little more straightforward than Saturday’s. The three category four climbs look fairly benign, while the finale appears routine sprinters’ fare. That’s right folks, we are expecting another sprint finish this afternoon.
The smart money, you would imagine, will be on Jakobsen who would make it three wins in a row today for Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl if he can make in back-to-back wins for himself. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) will be hoping to challenge him, while Van Aert will not want to lose too much ground in the race for the green jersey, something the Belgian is targeting.
Once again, there are just three category four points up for grabs in the mountains classification and so Cort may attempt to get into the day’s breakaway. Should he add one more point to his tally, he would keep hold of the polka dot jersey. If another rider mirrors what Cort did yesterday and takes all three points, top spot will be determined on the general classification: whoever has completed the first three stages in the shortest time will lead the mountains competition.
And finally, the weather . . .
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