But it hasn’t been as easy as Groves might have anticipated after the only other top-20-ranked sprinter in the Vuelta, Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), abandoned the race after crashing on successive stages and fracturing a shoulder blade – before he had a chance to compete in a single bunch sprint. After easily taking a rather shambolic sprint on the rather lumpy stage 4, he was nearly ambushed on stage 5 by an unexpected rival, the ultra-rapid Ineos Grenadiers ITT specialist and world track champion Filippo Ganna.
Ganna was apparently given permission by the Ineos coaching staff to go for glory, rather than pursue his day job of team domestique, and he timed his sprint nearly to perfection as he was beaten to the line by a mere hair’s breadth by Groves. The 27-year-old Italian is one of the great cycling all-rounders in the world. Nicknamed by Eurosport commentators as “the all-terrain vehicle,” he is equally at home on the flat and in the mountains, making him an invaluable domestique.
“I try to do the leadout, [be the] last man [in the mountains], sprint and there’s also a TT after the rest day” Ganna told Rouleur after stage 5. “I can ride everywhere.” Even if he doesn’t like to ride everywhere. “I don’t like to do the sprint,” he admitted. “It’s too dangerous and I don’t like the sensations, the pressure on the body. But if it’s necessary, I do it. I prefer to take care of my GC rider but G [Geraint Thomas] said I can do a sprint, so why not? I tried to do my best to finish today. It was not easy and I did my maximum.”
Asked if he will go for more sprints in this Vuelta, he replied, “We will see in the next few days.”
Ganna has one of the most impressive palmares in world cycling. He won the UCI World Time Trial Championship in 2020 and 2021, has won six Giro d’Italia stages and holds the record for most consecutive time trials won in that race, with five. In addition, he is a six-time world champion in the individual pursuit, winning a total of nine UCI Track Cycling World Championships medals, and was a member of the gold-medal-winning team in the team pursuit at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Ganna is also the current world record holder in individual pursuit, team pursuit and holds the world record for longest distance ridden in an hour on the track, best known as the hour record, with 56.792km. And now we discover he can also sprint like a demon, and without the help of a leadout setup.
Whereas Groves has the best leadout team in the Vuelta, who left him in the perfect position to take the win in both stages, which he was happy to acknowledge. “Two [wins] in a row on the Vuelta is a good feeling, especially in the green jersey,” the 24-year-old Australian said after holding off Ganna. “My team was fantastic again today. It was a pretty hectic final today, similar to yesterday but without the climbing. We lost three guys in a crash with 2.5km to go but luckily my leadout was still there and we could organize for the final.”
His stage 4 win was much easier, as he easily bested Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates) and Edward Theuns (Lidl-Trek) to the line. Groves now leads the points classification with 122 points, nearly double the 62 points of his nearest rival, Andrea Vendrame (AG2R Citroen) – though the 29-year-old Italian is not an authentic rival as he is a climber, not a sprinter. Another mountains domestique, Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), sits in third, with 52 points, while probably Groves’ main threat, last year’s Vuelta winner Remco Evenepoel, (Soudal-QuickStep) is fourth, at 45 points.
There are potentially four more bunch sprints remaining in the Vuelta, depending on how many breakaways manage to make it to the finish line. Based on what we have seen so far, barring illness or accident, there is no sprinter in the Vuelta peloton that can match Groves in speed and team support – unless Ineos Grenadiers allow Ganna to go for the Škoda Green Jersey. That would make for some fascinating sprint finishes. Otherwise, the Aussie’s only potential rival is Evenepoel, who likes to snatch bonus seconds in intermediate sprints and will certainly win another stage or two.
Škoda Green Jersey Results
- Kaden Groves, Alpecin-Deceuninck, 122 points.
- Andrea Vendrame, AG2R Citroen, 62
- Marc Soler, UAE Team Emirates, 52
- Remco Evenepoel, Soudal-QuickStep, 45
- Andreas Kron, Lotto Dstny, 45
- Dries van Gestel, Team TotalEnergies, 38