Neither falling in the first of multiple crashes nor the frantic chase to regain contact with the front group that followed could keep an ultra-determined Kaden Groves from capturing a long-sought first stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday.
Groves was one of multiple fallers in a mass pileup with seven kilometres to go, sparked, he said, by the combined effect of “a sprint finish and tight corners where we were all going too fast.”
The Alpecin-Deceuninck sprinter, twice third in previous stages, was hauled back into contention by a combined GC and sprinters chase of the front group. Then after netting a stage of the Vuelta last year, he made a long sprint for the second Grand Tour victory of his career.
Overall leader Andreas Leknessund (DSM) also had an eventful finale, being held up in the same first crash where Groves went down, but as part of the same chase group as the Australian that regained contact, the Norwegian remained in pink for a second day running.
“I don’t know exactly what happened in the crash,” Leknessund said afterwards “people were on the ground and had to get through as quickly as possible because everyone was a bit stressed.
“I came back with that second group. A few other GC sprinters’ teams wanted to close it down, I just tried to stay calm and stay in the group. Then there was a crash that happened to my right side” – when Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) fell – “and luckily I could avoid it. I just hope everybody involved is fine.”
Groves, too, said he was uncertain what happened when he went down in the crash with seven kilometres go, just that “I certainly pulled my front brake too hard, I panicked, I guess, and I came down.”
“Unfortunately, I took [teammate] Alex Krieger down with me, he had been beside me. Thankfully my chain stayed on, and I was lucky enough to come back from the second group to the front. I got back on with three kilometres to go and could contest the sprint.”
Groves said that he did not think the notoriously slick road surfaces of some parts of southern Italy were to blame after the day-long rainfall. It was more, he said, that on a day with a sprint finish, crashes were waiting to happen.
“The roads have been quite OK, I believe they could be slippery, like oily, surfaces with new tarmac, and the rain together, but I’m not sure. I think in this instance, it was just a sprint finish and tight corners where we were all going too fast.”
Being at full speed and fully concentrated on his sprint, he only saw what was happening just behind him as Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) and others crashed badly out of the corner of his eye – “I caught a glimpse of the crash on the barriers when he went down,” he said. Meanwhile, Groves’ sprint itself was a long one after “probably being too far forward early on.”
“I wasn’t so confident, I was third wheel at a kilometre to go, so I dropped back onto the wheel of the lead-out man for DSM, then it was time to go, super early.”
“I believe I did a very long sprint, in the end, luckily there was a crosswind off the beach, so I stuck to the barrier so if anybody did come past, they’d have to come around me. It was enough to get the win.”
While a crack at the points jersey is now far from ruled out, and he’s determined to go all the way to Rome, too,, Groves said that short-term, he was going to concentrate on taking another stage victory without looking too far ahead. In any case, taking a stage victory in the Giro is a big tick in a box that he’s had as a goal, he said, “since joining Alpecin-Deceuninck.”
“It’s been in the back of my mind to come here and win a stage for a long time. I don’t particularly rate my victories, but this is certainly a very special one, and the team deserves this win, too.”