Kaden Groves won the sprint at the end of a lumpy stage four of the Volta a Catalunya on Thursday, accelerating past Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) and Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech) in the final hundred metres.
The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider took his first win for his new team, powerfully kicking past the rest of the field in a messy sprint at the end of a day which saw over 2400 metres of climbing.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) remained safely in the peloton to continue his lead in the general classification, closely shadowed as before by Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step).
Alpecin-Deceuninck had a slow start to the season, with no victories or even a podium finish until Tirreno-Adriatico a fortnight ago. Now, at the end of March, the Belgian squad has five wins, and looks ready to compete across Europe.
Ineos Grenadiers looked all day like it was riding to set up Ethan Hayter, but in the end the British rider was squeezed out in the run in, eventually finishing 25th.
Catalunya does not have the deepest sprinting field, due to the calendar and the amount of climbing in the race - even stage four, a relatively flat day, had 2437 vertical metres - but Groves will be happy with the victory, his third at WorldTour level.
How it happened
Stage four was set to be the first day of the race so far that would not be won by a contender for the overall, with the flat run in at Sabadell favouring the faster men in the bunch.
Neither Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) or José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) started the stage, with the former departing due to a family emergency.
A flurry of attacks from the peloton occurred in the early stages, ahead of the first category La Molina climb, but all failed to stick. There was even a powerful six-man move which included Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën) and David De La Cruz (Astana Qazaqstan), but it was shut down quickly.
Bouchard was the first to crest La Molina, taking ten mountains points with it. Crucially, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) was third to the top, taking the virtual lead in the KOM classification.
Eventually, with 154km to go, an attack stuck, as Christopher Juul-Jensen (Jayco-AlUla), Torstein Træen (Uno-X), Roger Adrià (Kern Pharma) and De La Cruz made it up the road; they were soon joined by Nans Peters (AG2R Citroën).
De La Cruz's desperation to be in a break was explained by the fact he was born in Sabadell, the stage finish.
The break's advantage grew to just over three minutes, but not much more. Behind, in the peloton, Ineos Grenadiers, Cofidis and Alpecin-Deceuninck all pulled on the front, the trio with the most-fancied sprinters.
Adrià took the KOM points atop the category three climb Collet de Sant Agustí, before Peters did the business on the Coll de Lligabosses. As a result, Martin secured the mountains jersey for Friday.
The time the break had on the onrushing peloton was gradually whittled down to barely anything inside the last 10km. With about 5km to go, the usual sight of Soudal Quick-Step on the front of the peloton on a bunch sprint day happened; although the lack of a sprinter made it odd. It seemed that perhaps Remco Evenepoel fancied this finish.
Israel-Premier Tech then led for their sprinter Corbin Strong. The race took a sharp corner in the final kilometre that messed up the leadout trains.
Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) patiently followed Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), before unleashing his sprint in the final 50 metres, rounding the Frenchman to take a win at Catalunya for a second consecutive year. Strong came third.
Results, stage two, Volta a Catalunya 2023 stage four: Llívia to Sabadell (188.2km)
1. Kaden Groves (Aus) Alpecin-Deceuninck, in 4-19-27
2. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Cofidis
3. Corbin Strong (Aus) Israel-Premier Tech
4. Ide Schelling (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Clément Venturini (Fra) AG2R Citroën
6. Frederik Wandahl (Den) Bora-Hansgrohe
7. Jon Aberasturi (Esp) Trek-Segafredo
8. Milan Menten (Bel) Lotto Dstny
9. Arne Marit (Bel) Intermarché-Circus-Wanty
10. Simone Velasco (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 17-01-54
2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, at same time
3. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 19s
4. Mikel Landa (Spa) Bahrain Victorious, at 44s
5. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at same time
6.. Michael Woods (Can) Israel-Premier Tech
7. Jai Hindley (Aus) Bora Hansgrohe
8. Esteban Chaves (Col) EF Education-EasyPost, all at 48s
9. Cian Uijtdebroeks (Bel) Bora Hansgrohe, at 58s
10. Marc Soler (Spa) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-12
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