Kooij earns a decisive victory over Alaphilippe, Viviani and Cavendish

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Will people still wonder why Jumbo-Visma let Dylan Groenewegen go to Team BikeExchange-Jayco at the 11th hour last year? It’s not only because there are very few places left for a top sprinter and his train alongside GC riders like Primož Roglič and Tom Dumoulin, but also because the Dutch team already apparently has the next big thing to come.

Olav Kooij, 20, won his first victory of the 2022 season in stage 2 of the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Lude. This is not his first career professional victory, as he won stage 1a of the Settimana Coppi & Bartali in September 2020 and won two stages of the Cro Race 2021, also at UCI 2.1 level.

Last season he added a third place at the prestigious Gran Piemonte in Italy. This year he finished second behind Jasper Philipsen in stage 5 of the UAE Tour and second behind Tim Merlier in stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico.

“I’ve already been close a few times this year with a couple of second and third places but I wanted to win and I’m very happy that I managed to win today,” said Kooij. Cycling news at Le Lude. “It’s kind of a relief. It’s always nice to beat really good runners. This week there is a pretty solid starting field, so it feels good to win against them.

“We managed to stay together until the last 2 kilometers and we passed”, he described. “From there it was tight so that kept us in front. I have to thank the guys for that. They stayed very calm and helped me reach the front. Then I was in a good position in the last corner, so I knew I could sprint.

“We are here with a very young team including guys from the development team. It’s hard to fight against the strongest teams. They do everything they do and I try to find my way with them, sometimes I have to do something more myself but they are very motivated young riders, it’s nice to be with a group of young enthusiasts.

Kooij showed his top speed by beating race leader Pedersen, who looked set to claim a second straight victory. QuickStep-AlphaVinyl’s Elia Viviani and Mark Cavendish made the top 10 but were nowhere near the young Dutchman.

“It’s my ambition to reach the top of the sprint but I don’t know yet if I’m one of the best sprinters,” Kooij said. “For that I need to win a lot. It’s a good start. Sprinting is the way I can win races, so that’s my focus at the moment. We’ll see how I develop and if I can for more difficult races in the future.

There is not yet a Grand Tour on his agenda but he will get there eventually.

“After the Circuit de la Sarthe, I will rest for a few weeks and I will resume racing with the Tour of Hungary,” he concludes. “The Tour de Suisse should be my biggest stage race this year and also the most difficult, I think.”

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