Aussie Groves sprints to maiden Vuelta win

·3-min read

Australia's burgeoning sprint star Kaden Groves has raced to the first Grand Tour triumph of his career at Vuelta a Espana.

But there was calamity for world road race champion Julian Alaphilippe, whose defence of his crown in Australia next month is in severe doubt after he suffered a suspected broken collar bone in a crash on Wednesday.

Aided by an immaculate lead-out from his Australian Team BikeExchange-Jayco team, Groves, the 23-year-old from Gympie, blasted to victory in the conclusion to the 191.2km 11th stage between ElPozo Alimentacion and Cabo de Gata on the Andalusian coast.

The quicksilver Queenslander, who'd earned the first two stage triumphs of his pro career earlier in the year in the Catalonia and Turkey tours, underlined his terrific potential by roaring home in the denouement ahead of fast-finishing Dutchman Danny van Poppel and Belgium's Tim Merlier.

It marked a brilliant end to what had begun as a calamitous day for BikeExchange-Jayco after their team leader, Briton Simon Yates, had to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19 while lying fifth overall in the general classification.

"It feels fantastic," Groves said, after providing Australia with a third win of the three-week tour following Jay Vine's two stage wins for Alpecin-Deceuninck.

"This morning with the news of Simon going positive for COVID-19, all the boys were disappointed. It's the best way to bounce back after such bad news.

"We set up early for this win. We thought there'd be crosswind earlier but there was nothing until the final four kilometres where we were the first team. The guys did a perfect job keeping me in front and fresh.

"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 got the gap to step out and do my sprint."

Groves, who'd been hampered from showing his best turn of speed earlier in the race by poor positioning near the end of races, was set free to burst past his opponents this time after his teammates set him up perfectly.

Van Poppel, the only man who looked likely to challenge, was squeezed on the run-in and finished well short.

Yates, who had won the race in 2018, suffered mild symptoms overnight and returned his positive test on Wednesday morning.

It was another setback for the 30-year-old, who had been forced out of the Giro d'Italia in May by a knee injury.

"What a fantastic result and stage win. It's been a really emotional day for everyone involved. We woke up to the news of Simon being out of the race and it's tough to comeback from something like that," said BikeExchange-Jayco's Sport Director Gene Bates.

Young Belgian superstar Remco Evenepoel remains the race leader after coming home safely in the peloton. He's currently two minutes 41 seconds ahead of defending champion Primoz Roglic.

Yet Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's Evenepoel did suffer a blow to his chances, though, when his key teammate Alaphilippe was forced to abandon with 64km remaining.

The popular French buccaneer fell heavily after sliding out on a right-hand bend and had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance, casting major doubt over the defence of his road race crown in Wollongong in less than four weeks.

The top Australian in the GC is AG2R Citroen's Ben O'Connor, who's ninth overall, 7:46 down.