It started with a four-rider breakaway that included last year’s Vuelta GC winner Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep). This was an alarm signal to the man wearing the green jersey and the favourite for the points classification, Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck), because Evenepoel trailed him by only 19 points and could easily surpass him by winning the intermediate sprint or the stage itself. So, with the help of a teammate, Groves joined the breakaway, which managed to keep about 15 seconds between itself and the peloton until the business end of the stage, when Evenepoel kicked off the sprint with 500 m to go. He soon tired, and Groves was able to hold off the swift Filippo Ganna (Ineos-Grenadiers) to take the stage and his first-ever Grand Tour green jersey, to become the first Australian to win La Vuelta green jersey.
“For sure, I didn’t imagine I would win this way,” the relieved Groves said. “Coming into today, I really wanted to take the stage and keep the green jersey but going for a breakaway wasn’t my intention. Remco [Evenepoel] this morning was a threat for the green jersey and I suspected he might try something, not to take the jersey, but to try and win the stage. And I knew I had to follow him.”
Groves went on to say that Evenepoel was actually a big help in the end. “Remco leading out in the final hectometers was a big advantage for me,” he said. “This victory of the jersey and also my third stage mean a lot to me and I need to thank my team.”
But it was often a frustrating race for Groves, who became the de facto big favourite when Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), his most experienced rival, abandoned early in the race after crashing on successive stages and fracturing a shoulder blade. But in a race with few legitimate sprinters, there were also few experienced leadout riders. As a result, a number of sprints were chaotic and there were crashes leading into two sprints, including one on stage 19 that took down Groves with 1km to go. Fortunately, he was not hurt.
But the greatest threat to his victory came from Evenepoel, who revised his goals for the race after cracking on stage 13 and losing more than 27 minutes to his GC rivals. Instead of the red jersey, he decided to go after stage wins and the King of the Mountains jersey. He expressly said that he did not have his eyes on the green jersey, and gave up maximum points on intermediate sprints to prove it. But Evenepoel is such a strong rider that he picks up points just by riding. In his quest for stage wins, he rode in numerous breakaways and thereby couldn’t help taking some points on intermediate sprints. And he picked up more points by winning two stages and finishing in the top three in a few others. So by the time the riders lined up on Sunday for the final stage, Groves’s hold on the Škoda Green Jersey was tenuous, as he led Evenepoel by 245 points to 226.
But all’s well that ends well, and this Vuelta ended very well for the 24-year-old Groves, who looks to have a solid future as a Grand Tour sprinter. His problem is his teammate Jasper Philipsen who won his first-ever Grand Tour Green Jersey in the Tour de France this year. If Groves has his heart set on winning the Tour’s Škoda Green Jersey in the future, he may have to jump ship. If he doesn’t, Alpecin-Deceunick will have an embarrassment of riches and could dominate Grand Tour points classifications for years to come.