Kaden Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco) won stage 11 of the Vuelta a España with a powerful sprint, the Australian benefiting from his teammates taking control of the race in the closing kilometres.
In a relatively uneventful stage, where only three riders comprised an inevitably doomed breakaway, the main talking point came when Julian Alpahilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) crashed 150km into the day. The Frenchman fell hard onto his shoulder, causing him to abandon the race as he was taken to hospital for further checks.
With the break caught for the final 25km of the stage, the entire field came together to ride comfortably along until the remaining 5km before the finish line. BikeExchange attempted to prepare their lead out for their respective fast-man Kaden Groves, but Movistar, Jumbo-Visma, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl and Ineos Grenadiers were all in pursuit heading towards the flamme rouge.
John Degenkolb (DSM) sent a long-range sprint attack, but that ultimately failed to materialise as Tim Merlie (Alpecin-Deceuninck) overtook him, utilising his slip stream to great effect. However, Groves came storming through, launching towards the line to win the stage by only a few metres.
Danny Van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) finished second, while Merlier rounded out the final spot on the podium.
How it happened
After an eventful stage ten time trial, which saw Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) further extend his GC lead, stage 11 presented a somewhat easier route across the 191.2km route from ElPozo Alimentación to Cabo de Gata in southern Spain, with a sprint finish expected.
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers), among others, withdrew from the race before the beginning of stage 11, through positive Covid-19 tests.
The day started with a trio of Vojtěch Řepa (Equipo Kern Pharma), Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH) riding ahead of the peloton, creating the long-standing breakaway of the day.
With descents and small climbs to deal with, their lead over the peloton fluctuated around the minute to two-minute mark. They weren't able to build up any more time on the bunch, though, which seemed in no real rush to put the intensity into their legs after the TT and ahead of the mountain stages later in the week. Indeed, little action ensued over the opening first half of the stage.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) crashed out of the race with just over 60km remaining, the Frenchman falling heavily onto his shoulder. An ambulance took Alaphilippe to hospital, where he is undergoing further extensions to establish the extent of his injuries. With the Road World Championships a month away, it isn't clear whether he will be able to defend his title.
Vojtěch Řepa also crashed in the break further up the road at a similar time, but the Czech managed to climb back onto Bou's wheel. Bol attacked a few kilometres later, with 50km remaining, and built up a considerable gap over the duo now chasing him. With Bol continuing to speed up, his lead extended to two minutes over the peloton as Řepa and Bou were swiftly caught.
Bol continued his lone furrow, but the peloton caught the Dutchman with 25km still remaining in the stage, bringing the entire field back together. With only a gradual climb followed by flat roads still left, a sprint finish seemed inevitable.
Indeed, that is what transpired. None of the teams added any extra intensity ahead of the bunch sprint, everyone comfortable with the rather slow speeds they were covering the ground in.
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) won the intermediate sprint to Ruescas, 10km from the finish line, though he didn't face any real competition for the points. From there, BikeExchange-Jayco started to move towards the head of the bunch, while Pedersen moved slightly back, locked in within the bunch.
BikeExchange-Jayco tried to take control of the race, with Bahrain-Victorious challenging them towards the final kilometre. However, Pedersen started moving forwards gradually, attempting to further extend his lead in the green jersey.
Pedersen didn't manage to get his sprint going, though, as John Degenkolb (DSM) and then Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) both started their attempts for the stage win early. This caused panic within the riders, but not among BikeExchange-Jayco. The team kept their cool and stuck to the plan, with Kaden Groves launching his sprint at the perfect moment.
Danny Van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) almost caught the Australian in the closing metres, but Groves' lunge proved superior as he took the first Grand Tour victory of his career.
Vuelta a España 2022 stage 11 results
1. Kaden Groves (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco, in 5-03-14
2. Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
3. Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Deceuninck
4. Juan Sebastián Molano (Col) UAE Team Emirates
5. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
6. Daniel McLay (GBr) Arkéa Samsic
7. John Degenkolb (Ger) DSM
8. Fred Wright (GBr) Bahrain-Victorious
9. Cedric Beullens () Lotto-Soudal
10. Boy Van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
General classification after stage 11
1. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, in 39-39-04
2. Primož Roglič (Svn) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-41
3. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at 3-03
4. Carlos Rodríguez (Esp) Ineos Grenadiers, at 3-55
5. Juan Ayuso (Esp) UAE Team Emirates, at 4-53
6. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 6-45
7. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Qazaqstan, at 6-50
8. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 7-37
9. Ben O'Connor (Aus) AG2R Citroën, at 7-46
10. Thymen Arensman (Ned) DSM, at 8-44
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