Altitude camps are well-known for their benefits for climbers and all-rounders in cycling, but as Kaden Groves showed in the Vuelta a España on Tuesday, spells in the mountains do not harm sprinters’ chances either.
After his teammate Robbe Ghys crashed in the final corner of stage 4 to Tarragona, the Australian still had enough power to blast past UAE Team Emirates sprinter Juan Sebastian Molano on a nasty uphill grind to the finish line and claim the second Vuelta stage win of his career.
Second in Montjuic on Sunday, Groves’ victory two days later also pushes out Alpecin-Deceuninck’s team record of at least one stage win in every Grand Tour since 2021. It also continues his excellent track record in Catalunya, with three wins in the Volta to date and now a fresh success in the same region in the Vuelta a España.
The 24-year-old’s career victory number 14 comes on the back of a new kind of build-up to the Vuelta: one that’s light on racing compared to 2022 but heavy on time spent in altitude camps.
“It’s a different approach,” Groves said afterwards. “I missed out on doing [Tour de] Pologne before coming here, and we prepared at altitude instead, the same way we did before the Giro.
“It’s different without racing, but we can control a lot of things together with the team, put in really good blocks at altitude.
“The seven guys here been together with three weeks already at altitude and that makes a big difference. We may be lacking in race condition, but we feel really comfortable together and I believe it’s showing.”
Groves showed his strength by adding the Vuelta stage to this year’s victory tally to stage wins in the Giro d’Italia and Volta a Catalunya this spring.
“During the Giro I got sick, and we decided I’d leave the race and focus on Suisse, where in the end there was only one sprint stage, ” he recounted.
“Then on that one stage I crashed, so I didn’t have a very good result.”
“Afterwards I’ve been on a break at home, recovering and then like I said I’ve done two good altitude camps to prepare for this Vuelta and it shows in my performances here.”
The sprint itself was quite a wild one, as Groves chased down Juan Sebastian Molano after a mini-pileup on a sharp bend saw his teammate Ghys and Marijn Van Den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost) go down in the last kilometre.
“That last corner was super tight, in the end, Van Den Berg and Robbe ran the corner wide and crashed. But that meant a big gap opened for Sebas Molano and myself.
“Molano went full from the bottom with 350 metres to go and I was luckily patient and strong enough to close on him with 100 metres left to the finish.”
He was confident of the win, he said, “because Molano had already led out from 350 metres, and on a finish like that, super tough and quite long, I thought he’d have to be on a really good day to beat me.”
The team’s stunning track record in Grand Tours continues thanks to Groves, and he attributed the lengthy run of success “to the work we’ve done, all of our staff and teammates and the environment we have here to really ride as one and commit to the sprints. Not only in the Grand Tours, in every race we go to.”
On a personal level, too, he said, it had been an exceptional season to date.
“I’m really happy, it’s been a good year. I had a stage win in the Giro and now one in the Vuelta quite early and hopefully it’s not the last.”
That next win could come as soon as Wednesday in Burriana, before the Vuelta’s return to the mountains on stage 6 but Groves has already made his mark in another Grand Tour, with his third win in three participations.