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Kaden Groves won the green jersey on the final stage of the Vuelta a España in Madrid
Vuelta a España: Green jersey battle goes to the line as Kaden Groves wins in Madrid
Australian shuts down threat from Remco Evenepoel to secure jersey and third stage win
Racing News Editor
Despite being the pre-race favourite for the stage, Kaden Groves’ (Alpecin-Deceuninck) journey to winning stage 21 of the Vuelta a España was not a simple one, and few would have predicted his third stage win coming from an elite breakaway, rather than a bunch sprint.
The Australian didn’t enjoy the security of knowing his points classification victory was confirmed, and ended up having to fight all the way to the line to ensure the emerald jersey stayed on his shoulders.
After winning three stages, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) was within reach of overtaking Groves. This wouldn’t usually be a possibility on the flat, fast stage around Madrid – hardly suited to the King of the Mountains’ abilities – but when the attacks started in the capital city, the Belgian was in them, and among strong company.
What that meant for Groves was that instead of relying on his team to pull things back for a sprint, he had to stick with Evenepoel, because if he went up the road and won the stage, there could be a big upset.
"For the points, I won the intermediate so I knew that as long as Remco didn’t win the stage, I would still hold the jersey," Groves explained. "So in the end it was about following him, and luckily he was also on the limit."
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Being in a breakaway is not an unfamiliar position for Groves in this Vuelta – he’s been up the road chasing intermediate points throughout the race – but in a move with the likes of Evenepoel, Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), he had to be careful with his efforts, with the stage win also a huge goal.
"I just tried to be as smart as possible in picking my times to pull,” he said. “Obviously I tried to do the corners and the descents as best as possible and miss a few turns when I could."
The first Australian to win the Vuelta's points classification
Final-day changes of jersey winners aren’t a common sight in cycling, but Groves explained that he was far from certain that the green jersey would still be his at the end of the day, despite wearing it for most of the race. When all the jersey wearers sat up for a photo opportunity during the processional start to the stage, Groves knew he still had work to do to make sure that photo didn’t quickly go out of date.
"I tried to keep composed and my team did a super job of keeping me in position today, but we certainly didn’t celebrate anything this past week, and certainly not last night,” he said. "We knew we had a job to do today. I’m super proud of my guys. We went in there today with a plan, and they put it all out there for me to be in the best position to win the stage, and in the end we achieved that.”
Though it may have taken until the very last moment for Groves’ win to be confirmed, for the 24-year-old and his team to be able to celebrate, after the stage he finally had the chance to appreciate what is an historic victory.
"It means a lot,” he said. “Apparently I’m the first Australian to win the green jersey here in the Vuelta, and sure that means a lot, but also with my team, we committed super well.
"With the points system here, we had to chase a lot of intermediate sprints this race. It also uses a lot of extra energy, my team having to close breakaways early and also control it to the sprint, it takes a big effort and I need to thank them for the commitment over the last three weeks."
More than two weeks after his first and second stage wins, and after hundreds of kilometres of trying – missing out in sprints, taking intermediate points, battling through the mountains to make it Madrid – Groves finally has his hat trick, even if the path there wasn’t simple.
“We knew that the green jersey would be a nice bonus but also we wanted to win a third stage. I came close before, so three stages is really the cherry on top."
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