• Dylan Groenewegen pushes Fabio Jakobsen into the barrier on Stage 1 of the Tour of Poland (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Caleb Ewan has opened on the subject of sprint safety and Dylan Groenewegen's return to the peloton in 2021.
SBS Cycling Central

11 Jan - 8:12 AM  UPDATED 11 Jan - 8:20 AM

The shock crash in the Tour of Poland between Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) sent the cycling world into shock and Jakobsen into a coma. 

Jakobsen is recovering still, and Groenewegen was banned for nine months for changing his line significantly in the sprint and putting Jakobsen into the barriers, a ban that will end in May 2021. 

Ewan was asked about the incident and Groenewegen's return to the peloton in a group interview with the media.

“He knows he made a big mistake, everyone else knows he made a big mistake,” said Ewan. “Have all sprinters moved off their line in a sprint? Yes. But maybe he went a little bit too far across the road.

"That’s the way he sprints. He’s done it before. What happened to Jakobsen, he never intended it on being so bad. What he did was wrong, so we’ll see what his come back is like.”

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There have been other factors identified in the crash, including the downhill sprint exacerbating the speed of the riders, the barriers shattering upon impact, but Ewan was clear that rider fault was the most significant point at issue. 

“Generally, the crashes are because of the riders, not because of the barriers," said Ewan. "If you crash into the barriers it is usually because another rider has moved you into the barrier. I’m not scared of barriers. If anything, you’re scared of other riders moving in a way that you wouldn’t want them to." 

He admitted he knew what he was doing,” Ewan said of Groenewegen. “As a sprinter, you know when you feel a rider next to you, and if you go all the way to the barrier, you know that rider is going to get crashed onto the barrier.

"We all move a little bit, we all know the limit. To put someone all the way into the barrier, he pretty much knew what he was doing … it doesn’t matter how safe the barrier is, you know if you’re going to put a rider into a barrier at 80kph, of course, you don’t want the outcome to be so bad, but you know it’s not going to be good.”

Safety concerns are an accepted risk, part of the calculus of sprinting for Ewan, a tacit acknowledgment for all those involved in top-tier sprinting situations at high speed. 

“Even if they don’t say it, everyone has accepted that it’s part of their job that maybe they’re going to have a big crash at some point of their careers,” said Ewan. “Cycling is a dangerous sport in general. Most of us have accepted it.

"If they can do something to make it safer, they should try. If there are options for safer barriers, use the safer barriers. At the end of the day, it’s always going to be a really dangerous sport. I don’t know what they can do to make it so much safer.”

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Ideas have been floated for safer barriers at the finish and sprint lanes to stop deviations. Ewan was fine with improvements in general, but rebuffed the idea of sprint lanes and changing the competitive balance in sprinting.

“I’ve had heard that suggestion," said Ewan. "How would that work? What’s stopping a whole team from blocking all the lanes and you cannot come around?"

“That would be the worst thing you could do to a sprint, and I hope that never, ever happens. A sprint stage is generally pretty boring already. Most of the sprint teams control the stages, so it’s pretty rare the breaks stay away, so if they make the sprints boring in the end, no one is going to want to watch sprints anymore.

“My sprint in the third stage of the Tour, when I was weaving through the bunch, that’s exciting to watch — not sprinting in one lane.”

At the end of the day for Ewan, cycling is a dangerous sport, and sprinting as a subset of that is even more so, a risk that needs to be taken into account before embarking upon a career as a fast finisher.

“Sprints are fast, sprints are dangerous. That’s the way it is,” Ewan said. “Every sprinter has accepted that, and the guys who don’t want to accept that are probably not the world’s best sprinters.”