Evenepoel safely keeps Vuelta lead as Groves wins 11th stage

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ALMERIA, Spain — Remco Evenepoel safely kept the overall lead at the Spanish Vuelta, while Kaden Groves prevailed in the final sprint to win his first Grand Tour stage after more riders had to withdraw because of positive coronavirus tests.

Simon Yates, Groves’ teammate at BikeExchange-Jayco, was among those who had to leave the race because of the coronavirus. The 2018 Vuelta champion was fifth in the general classification. Pavel Sivakov, who was ninth, also had to withdraw.

“This morning, with the news of Simon being positive for COVID, all the boys were pretty disappointed, and this is the best way to bounce back after such bad news,” the 23-year-old Groves said. “I really have to celebrate but I also wish he was here because he’s part of this team.”

The Australian crossed the line ahead of Danny van Poppel and Tim Merlier to take the victory in Stage 11.

“I have to thank all the guys, we’ve been riding all day and we set up early for this win,” Groves said. “With crosswind in the last four kilometers, the guys did a perfect job to put me in the front fresh. Being my first Grand Tour win, it sure takes the cake.”

Evenepoel finished in the peloton along with three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic, who stayed at 2 minutes, 41 seconds off the lead with 10 stages left. Enric Mas remained more than three minutes behind Evenepoel in third place.

Evenepoel had increased his lead with a strong time trial on Tuesday. The 22-year-old Belgian from team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl has held the leader’s red jersey since the sixth stage.

Evenepoel lost an important teammate on Wednesday, though, as world champion Julian Alaphilippe had to withdraw from the race after a crash. Alaphilippe had to be taken into an ambulance with a dislocated right shoulder. The team said there was no fracture.

“It’s definitely not a beautiful day like we hoped for,” Evenepoel said. “It’s definitely a big loss for our team, especially on a quiet stage. It’s quite a pity. I hope he does well and he’s not suffering too much. Julian was doing really well in a lot of stages. It’s a pity that we lose the world champion because he was in a really good shape. I have confidence in my other teammates also and I’m sure they will do very well in the coming stages.”

Riders in Stage 12 will face a long flat stage with an uphill finale in Estepona.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”