La Vuelta 2022: Kaden Groves grabs Stage 11 to heal BikeExchange-Jayco pain from Simon Yates' Covid exit
A day that started in disaster for BikeExchange-Jayco ended in jubilation as Kaden Groves zipped to a maiden Grand Tour stage win just hours after the withdrawal of team-mate Simon Yates. Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel retained the red jersey but suffered a huge blow after team-mate Julian Alaphilippe crashed out with a shoulder injury.
Stage 11 highlights: Groves takes surprise win after Alaphilippe crash
Team BikeExchange-Jayco bounced back in the best way possible from the Covid withdrawal of leader Simon Yates by launching sprinter Kaden Groves to a maiden Grand Tour stage win in Cabo di Gata on the Costa del Almeria.
Groves benefited from a flawless lead-out as he latched onto the wheels of Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates) and Daniel McLay (Arkea-Samsic) to power clear on the home straight of Stage 11 before holding off Danny van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) for a stunning win.
The win was the perfect tonic for BikeExchange-Jayco, who are embroiled in a dogged relegation battle to retain their WorldTour status – a battle made distinctively harder by the enforced withdrawal of Yates, who entered the stage in fifth place in the general classification.
Green jersey Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) could only take fifth place in the largely flat 191km stage in Andalusia in southern Spain – although the Dane extended his lead in the green jersey competition to almost 100 points over his nearest rival, Remco Evenepoel, the race leader.
Belgium’s Evenepoel finished safely in the peloton to retain his 2’41” lead over the triple champion Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) but the red jersey was dealt a blow after influential team-mate Julian Alaphilippe crashed out. The French world champion dislocated his shoulder in a fall around 60km from the finish and was taken to hospital, putting the rest of what was already a troubled season very much in the balance.
But the day belonged to 23-year-old Groves, who came of age with a masterful sprint just when his team needed it most.
“It feels fantastic,” a thrilled Groves said. “This morning, with the news of Simon Yates going positive for Covid, all the boys were pretty disappointed. This is the best way to bounce back after such bad news. I'm really happy to celebrate but I also wish he was here because he's part of this team.”
BikeExchange-Jayco helped control the stage after an early breakaway of three riders opened up a four-minute gap. Groves’ team-mates were then on red alert ahead of the prospects of a blustery finish, before teeing up their man with aplomb.
“I've got to thank all the guys – Luke [Durbridge] for riding all day. Then we set up early – we thought there was going to be a crosswind, which there wasn't. We were first team until the final four kilometres and the guys did a perfect job keeping me on the front and fresh,” Groves explained.
“I was fresher than the other guys and was in the right position to do my sprint. Being my first Grand Tour win, it for sure takes the cake – and there are still more sprint stages to come.”
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Twenty-one withdrawals since the ‘gran salida’ in Utrecht means the 77th edition of La Vuelta has already overseen more Covid casualties than the Giro and Tour combined – and this on a day that marked only the halfway point of the race.
A trio of riders zipped clear from the gun with the Dutch serial escapee Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH) joined by Spain’s Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Czech debutant Vojcech Repa (Equipo Kern Pharma) in a move which quickly established a four-minute advantage over the pack.
Jetse Bol, Vojtech Repa and Joan Bou ride in the breakaway during Stage 11 of La Vuelta 2022
Image credit: Getty Images
Sprint finishes have been something of a rarity on this race – indeed, unseen since Sam Bennett’s double triumph back in the Netherlands – and so it came as no surprise to see the teams of the fast men come to the front to keep a lid on the situation.
Joining Groves’ BikeExchange-Jayco team with a man on the front were Pedersen’s Trek-Segafredo, McLay’s Arkea-Samsic and Merlier’s Alpecin-Deceuninck. Despite losing Bennett to Covid ahead of Tuesday’s time trial, Bora-Hansgrohe contributed to the chase to pave the way for their Dutch deputy, Van Poppel.
The race played out at a sluggish speed and into a headwind as the race head towards the coast under the hot Spanish sun. No sooner had former ice hockey star Repa hit the deck on a dusty corner than the Frenchman Alaphilippe suffered the same plight – but with far worse consequences.
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After a rider slid out in front of him, the man in the rainbow jersey had no time to react and landed heavily on his shoulder. It became instantly clear that Alaphilippe – who was sidelined earlier in the season after a horrific fall in Liege-Bastogne-Liege – was not in a good way; the Frenchman was soon bundled into an ambulance, his arm in a brace.
If Repa fought back into the break, it was soon curtains for the three leaders. Bol, a veteran of six Vueltas and the most experienced of the trio, kicked clear with 52km remaining – but the Dutchman was reeled in with 26km to go.
The pace eased up ahead of the late intermediate sprint, which Pedersen won uncontested, before the jostling for positions started ahead of the sprint finish, which played out on a long 4km stretch along the coast.
Groves benefited from being shielded by his team-mates until Germany’s John Degenkolb (Team DSM) launched early in a move marked by Molano. The Argentine looked over his shoulder – perhaps in the hope of seeing UAE team-mate Pascal Ackermann emerge from his slipstream. But the German was nowhere to be seen – and instead it was Groves who powered clear towards a breakthrough and bittersweet win.
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Late surges from Van Poppel and the Belgian champion Merlier came too late to deny Groves a deserved maiden Grand Tour win as BikeExchange-Jayco were able to draw a line under a tricky day on La Vuelta.
The same cannot be said for red jersey Evenepoel, who will now head into the next summit finish with just five Quick-Step team-mates and without his key domestique Alaphilippe. Stage 12 is a largely flat 195.5km schlep along the Costa del Sol which concludes with the tough ramp of Penas Blancas above the town of Estepona.