Most of the sprinters at the the Volta a Catalunya were languishing at the back of field on the fast starting, climb strewn stage 6 but Kaden Groves was one that managed to maintain a place in the 40-strong chase group behind Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe). In the end there was no catching the pair but having a fast finisher still in the bunch meant BikeExchange-Jayco was rewarded for its persistence with a podium place and high hopes for the season ahead.
It was no easy day of racing at the Volta a Catalunya on Saturday, with a downpour in Salou to kick off the168.6 stage with three categorised climbs, the first coming at just 41km from the start. Add a tight GC competition into the mix, with the top 3 riders within seven seconds at the start of the stage, and any hope that it would be anything but a brutal ride through the stage with 3,013 metres of vertical ascent went out the window.
“It was a very difficult stage, and we saw that as it unfolded. We probably didn’t envisage it being that hard, but a combination of the weather, where the GC was at, and the parcours really made it a race and a half,” BikeExchange-Jayco sport director Gene Bates said in a statement. “It was on from kilometre zero right to the very end.”
As the Cambrils finish line approached riders that Groves had been vying with for the sprint in previous days, such as Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious) and Ethan Vernon (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), were more than 20 minutes back and, at the end of the day, the DNF list ran 18 riders long.
Groves, though, held on through the climbs and the 23-year-old, who earlier in the race took his first WorldTour victory, was ensconced in the chasing group of around 40 as it swept toward the line. The break of Carapaz and new race leader Higuita had already taken the top two steps of the podium but the third was still up for grabs. It quickly became clear that there was no one in that reduced peloton that could rival Groves and the turn of speed he delivered in pursuit of that final podium place.
“I can’t thank the guys enough, they did an incredible job keeping me protected and trying to bring the guys back for a sprint finish,” said Groves. “They really showed their strength, and I was lucky enough to have some good shape today and make it to the final. It was a real shame to finish third, but we were beaten by two stronger guys today.”
“If we were to do it again, we wouldn’t change anything from today, and there was nothing more we could’ve done.”
Groves may have been disappointed that he wasn’t competing for the victory instead of third in that stage 6 sprint, but the result still added another podium placing to the team’s already impressive Volta a Catalunya tally of two stage victories – with Michael Matthews winning on stage 1 and Groves on stage 2. Additionally, it was more than just the result which struck a positive note for the team.
“I think we’ve seen areas of Kaden this week that we haven’t seen previously, which is really exciting moving forward,” said sport director Bates. “You don’t see a sprinter of his calibre get around a course like that easily, and that’s exciting for what we’ve got planned for the rest of the year and the future.”
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