Many of the biggest names in sprinting are in action this week at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, with Sam Bennett among the stars of the former and Caleb Ewan of the latter. As evidenced by the victories of Mads Pedersen and Tim Merlier on Tuesday, however, the days of only a handful of riders dominating cycling sprints are long gone. The list of suitors seems longer than ever right now – and that’s creating opportunities for a new generation to step in and establish themselves.
At Tirreno-Adriatico in particular, the youth movement was in the spotlight in Tuesday’s Stage 2, with 20-year-old Dutchman Olav Kooij second behind Merlier and 23-year-old Australian Kaden Groves third. Both youngsters are riders to watch as the ever-changing landscape at the top of cycling’s sprinter hierarchy continues to evolve.
Despite their young age, Kooij and Groves have been turning heads for some time thanks to their impressive performances in junior and under-23 races and in their first forays as WorldTour pros.
Kooij was still a teenager at this time last year, but since then has given his Jumbo-Visma plenty of reason to be optimistic about his future. He moved from Jumbo-Visma’s development team to his WorldTour team in 2021 and quickly won a stage at Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali before moving on to claim his first WorldTour victory with a second place finish behind Fernando. Gaviria on a stage of the Tour. from Poland. He then landed on the podium in the Under-23 road race at the Worlds in Flanders, followed by two 2.1-rated stage wins at the Cro Race and an impressive one-day podium in Italy at the Gran Piemonte.
This latest result was particularly impressive for the Dutch hopeful, given that he crashed with 20km to go and suffered scratches and bruises bad enough that he needed more stitches. late.
With just nine race days under his belt so far this year, Kooij has already recorded two second-place finishes in WorldTour races, finishing second behind Jasper Philipsen on Stage 5 of the UAE Tour. Wout van Aert’s presence at Jumbo-Visma means Kooij won’t be the first option for quick finishes in many of the biggest races of the year, but it also means he can grow and learn on his own. pace rather than being thrown into the deep end too quickly. He’s made good progress so far, which comes as no surprise given his talent and the system he finds himself in, riding for a Jumbo-Visma team that helped Jonas Vingaard become the one of cycling’s brightest young stars over the past year. .
With his recent streak of strong performances, Kooij knows he is in good shape to challenge for a first WorldTour victory.
“Considering the good legs I had, second place is a bit disappointing,” Kooij said after stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico. “The UAE Tour had given me a lot of confidence and I wanted to aim for victory here. It’s a shame that I finished second.
Groves has also made good progress in his first seasons as a professional, and at BikeExchange he finds himself riding alongside established sprint talent as well. With the versatile Michael Matthews already on the roster, the team brought in Dylan Groenewegen for this season. Groenewegen’s credentials as a four-time Tour de France stage winner put him at the top of the team’s sprint hierarchy, but Groves will likely see an increase in the number of chances he gets this season as it continues to shine.
Groves joined Mitchelton-Scott as a trainee in 2019, then joined the team as a full-time professional in 2020. The team took a step-by-step approach to give him opportunities to get results, but the Australian fans got a glimpse of his prowess almost immediately. after making the official leap to the WorldTour by finishing fourth in the Race Torquay, a national criterium title and two Herald Sun Tour stage wins at the start of 2020.
He struggled with injury issues, but Groves picked up a prologue victory at the Tour of Slovakia last year to ensure he would close the season with at least one victory on the programme.
Currently on a one-year deal with BikeExchange, he racked up a trio of top three finishes at the Tour of Oman last month. His third place on Tuesday was his best result in a WorldTour event.
So far, neither Groves nor Kooij have appeared in a Grand Tour, but with three three-week races on the schedule, those chances could be on the horizon. In the meantime, the week-long races provide prime opportunities for both of them – and the rest of the sport’s many speedsters in the mix right now – to shine. Kooij and Groves are just two of the youngsters in the sprint field at Tirreno-Adriatico, with DSM’s Alberto Dainese and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Jordi Meeus also emerging talents to watch.
These four youngsters, along with Stage 2 winner Merlier, Ewan, Peter Sagan, Pascal Ackermann, Nacer Bouhanni, Arnaud Démare, Elia Viviani and Alexander Kristoff will all be on the very long list of names hoping to claim victory over a another likely sprint. stage in Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday.