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Vuelta stage win for Groves boosts BikeExchange morale after Yates DNS

CABO DE GATA, SPAIN - AUGUST 31: Kaden Groves of Australia and Team BikeExchange - Jayco celebrates winning the stage on the podium ceremony after the 77th Tour of Spain 2022, Stage 11 a 191,2km stage from ElPozo Alimentación - Alhama de Murcia to Cabo de Gata / #LaVuelta22 / #WorldTour / on August 31, 2022 in Cabo de Gata, Spain. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Kaden Groves gives boost to Team BikeExchange-Jayco with stage 11 victory (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Hours after their GC leader Simon Yates had to abandon the Vuelta a España due to a positive for COVID-19, BikeExchange-Jayco regained their maximum race momentum possible in difficult circumstances as their sprinter Kaden Groves claimed his first-ever WorldTour stage win.

Earlier in the day, lead sports director at the Vuelta, Gene Bates, bluntly described Yates' exit as “devastating” and recognised that it represented “a blow” in the team’s ongoing UCI points battle, given Yates’ prospects of a good GC finish in Madrid remained intact 10 days into the race.

But if those hopes of a top overall position were wrecked by a positive test for COVID-19, Groves' bunch sprint success at least gave the team a major consolation prize, as well as proving that when the team talked on Wednesday morning about increasing their focus on stage wins they clearly meant business.

“It’s devastating for us and the team,” Bates said at Wednesday morning’s stage start. “We had a big focus for the Vuelta with Simon and we were going well. There’s clearly a very strong top three at the moment, but we had a steady approach, and it was going in our favour, he’d moved up another spot to fifth overall on Tuesday.

“It's a hard pill to swallow. But the key thing is we can’t control that, so we look to what we can control and that’s all about regrouping and getting the most out of the rest of the Vuelta.”

Bates said that overnight Yates had come down with a high fever as well as other symptoms and did not sleep well. A positive test confirmed their worst fears, and for a second time in his career, after his positive in the Giro 2020, Yates' GC hopes in a Grand Tour were dashed by the coronavirus.

Bates recognised that quite apart from the Vuelta itself, in terms of the UCI points battle, the loss of a chance of a top result on GC was “a blow in that regard”.

“We can’t hide that, so we’ll just have to get a bit imaginative on where we look for those points, won’t we?”

In terms of the Vuelta, “As we know the points system and the way it’s set up doesn’t favour stage wins, more one-day races and overalls. But we’ve got the focus on stages here, and that’s what we’ll do  while we’re here and we’re looking for other plan Bs.” 

Bates pointed to Groves as the leading light in that field, and said that although the Vuelta finish in Cabo de Gata was anything but straightforward because of the wind, “that suits his style.”

As things turned out later that day, Groves could hardly have been quicker to step into the breach inflicted on the team’s morale, with the Australian clinching his first Grand Tour stage win, as he reminded reporters, in his first ever Grand Tour. 

Groves also agreed that on this occasion, getting the win was the best possible outcome to a day that could hardly have started worse for BikeExchange-Jayco.

“Totally. We were told the sad news about Simon this morning and it’s tough for him and tough for the team. Half of them were here to support him on GC but now we’ll focus on stages,” Groves said. “So my thanks to all the guys and the entire team for backing me up so well today."

Set to leave the Australian squad for Alpecin-Deceuninck next season, Groves said he ‘owed’ the team some good results in his last months with the squad, and that they had performed brilliantly in the closing part of the stage.

"With the wind, there was some stress coming into the final, particularly on one  corner around 20 kilometres to go, and then again when we had that final turn at  four kilometres to go, coming along the coast,” he recounted about stage 11.

“But we controlled the stage from the front with Luke Durbridge. We were first team  in the bunch with four kilometres to go, and I never changed position, only when a few other sprinters came up too early. But luckily I was fresh enough to be able to pass them before the line.”

Groves' next opportunity for a bunch sprint will likely come in two days at Montilla. But regardless of how he fares there, the much-needed boost he provided to BikeExchange-Jayco’s collective morale following Yates abandon will likely endure for some time to come.

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