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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a Espana stage 11: Kaden Groves wins bunch sprint to land first grand tour win

The peloton sizzles in the heat of southern Spain.

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Kaden Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco) blasted home to win stage 11 of the Vuelta a España, proving best in the bunch gallop which settled a long, hot day in the Spanish sun.

The Australian beat Danny van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) to the line in Cabo de Gata, landing the first grand tour stage of his career.

Green jersey Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was trying to take his first victory of this year’s Vuelta but was caught out of position. He finished fifth, one place behind Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates).

Race leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) finished safely in the main bunch, retaining his red jersey. He avoided problems on a day when his teammate Julian Alaphilippe crashed out of the race with a shoulder injury, almost certainly losing any hopes of retaining his world championship title.

The stage was marked by sweltering conditions and the day’s break moved clear immediately after the drop of the flag. Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), Vojtech Repa (Kern Pharma) and Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gained a maximum lead of four minutes, with Bol later pushing ahead alone but being eventually reeled in with 26km remaining.

The sprinters’ teams worked hard to set up their riders, with Groves’ BikeExchange Jayco very prominent in the finale. They had started the day on a downer when their GC rider Simon Yates was one of five competitors to withdraw due to positive COVID-19 tests, but bounced back in style.

“It feels fantastic,” said Groves. “This morning, with the news of Simon going positive for Covid, all the boys were pretty disappointed. This is the best way to bounce back after such bad news. I am really happy to celebrate but I also wish he was here, because he is part of this team. I am really happy.”

BikeExchange-Jayco had kept the day’s break under tabs and Groves was quick to laud those efforts.

“I have got to thank all the guys. Luke [Durbridge] was riding all day, and then we set up early for this wind. We thought there would be a crosswind a bit earlier but there was nothing until the final four kilometers when we were first team. The guys did a perfect job keeping me in the front and fresh.

The 23 year old believes that this made the difference. “I was fresher than the other guys who had to do efforts from behind to move up. Thankfully I was in the right position and I got the gap to step out and do my sprint.”

“It has been a really good year. I am super happy to get a win here already, and there are still more stages to come.”

The first four places in the general classification remain unchanged. Evenepoel maintains his 2:41 advantage over Primož Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and remains 3:03 in front of Enric Mas (Movistar Team).

Those from fourth back move up a place due to Yates’ withdrawal, while the riders from eighth on GC improve two places due to that absence and also the COVID-prompted withdrawal of Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grandiers).

Evenepoel moves forward in a strong position, but said he regretted the loss of Alaphilippe.

“It definitely makes it a less beautiful day than we expected. I don’t exactly know what happened or what the results are, but it is definitely a big loss for our team,” he said. “Especially on such a quiet stage, it is quite a pity.”

How it happened

Stage 11 of the Vuelta a España was billed as one for the sprinters, and indeed was tailor-made for them. The 191.2km from ElPozo Alimentación to Cabo de Gata lacked any categorized climbs but did have the chance of crosswinds due to its passage along the coastline.

Five riders did not start due to Covid 19, including Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), fifth overall before the stage, plus the ninth-placed Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers).

The day’s break was deemed non-threatening by the sprinters’ teams and the immediate attack by Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), Vojtech Repa (Kern Pharma), and Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was given scope to go well clear. It already had a gap of 3:50 after six kilometers of racing, inched upwards to four minutes soon afterward, and was subsequently tightly controlled by teams such as Alpecin-Deceuninck, Arkea-Samsic, and Trek-Segafredo.

The gap dropped back to 1:30 after 100km of racing, but the peloton backed off and allowed the lead to build again to over two minutes with 75km remaining. A number of crashes then happened in the peloton, most likely due to dust on the road, with Alaphilippe sliding out on a right-hand bend inside 65km to go.

He was quickly attended to but exited the race, his shoulder strapped up with what appeared to be a collarbone injury. The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider has had a difficult season, with crashes plus a bout of COVID-19 curtailing his racing.

One rider goes it alone before the bunch knuckles down

The peloton hewed the break’s lead down close to a minute with 55km remaining and, concerned by this, Bol clipped away three kilometers later. Repa and Bou had nothing more to give and were recaptured by the bunch, while Bol worked hard to pad his advantage to almost two minutes.

However, one rider versus the peloton was an impossible task and he was caught with 26km remaining. Pedersen was unchallenged for the intermediate sprint with 9.8km to go, after which the sprinters’ teams became more and more organized.

Jumbo Visma, Movistar, Alpecin-Deceuninck, and Ineos Grenadiers were to the fore heading into the final 5km. Alpecin-Deceuninck and BikeExchange-Jayco led them into the final kilometer, with John Degenkolb (Team DSM) launching from a long way out. Groves then swept past and while he was challenged by Van Poppel close to the line, he was able to hold on for a very important win.

What’s next:

The peloton returns to the mountains on Thursday with a 192.7km stage from Salobreña to the difficult summit finish of Peñas Blancas Estepona.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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