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WANGARATTA, Australia (CT) – Two days ago Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) said his teammates deserved better than the second place he’d delivered in the Sun Tour opener. He said that “the boys were great” and that, thankfully, there would be “more chances for the team in the coming days.” Groves took one of those chances today.
In roasting conditions in Wangaratta, on stage 3 of the 2020 Sun Tour, Groves repaid his teammates for their hard work and sprinted to his first UCI victory in Mitchelton-Scott colours. In a reversal of Wednesday’s opening stage Alberto Dainese (Sunweb) was second despite being distanced over a late climb, while Mihkel Raim (Israel Start-Up Nation) dashed to third.
It had ended in a reduced bunch sprint, but that wasn’t necessarily the expected result at the start of the day. On paper, today’s stage was a breakaway’s biggest chance of the tour to snag a stage win. The race was particularly aggressive for the first hour or so as it headed over Tawonga Gap and plenty of riders sought to battle their way out front.
Sunweb, the team of overall leader Jai Hindley, rode defensively in those opening kilometres, keen to stop Mitchelton-Scott from getting riders out front.
“I’m not climbing too bad at the moment, so I was pretty happy with the hard pace on the first climb and I made the front selection,” Groves said. “After that Sunweb were really marking us out of the race, not letting us go in the break so we had to chase all day.”
Eventually the pace relented — the group of eight out front was to Sunweb’s liking. Among them, though, James Whelan (EF), just one minute down on GC and swiftly into the virtual race lead. But Sunweb was never worried about the prospect of losing yellow.
“No, not at all,” said Hindley. “I think the guys had it under control and rode really well as a team.”
As Sunweb controlled the pace in the bunch, the composition of the breakaway changed several times. From eight the break was whittled down to four with 85 km still to go, back up to six with 74 km to race, then down to five with 33 km to go as sprint leader Ben Hill (BridgeLane) cramped out front and had to stop for a moment.
Just four remained when the final climb up Taminick Gap began, 18km from the finish — Whelan, Carter Turnbull (KordaMentha-Australia), Charles-Etienne Chretien (Aevelo) and Guillaume Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation).
The break was finally caught with 11.5 km to go. The peloton, meanwhile, had split. With Dainese caught out behind, Mitchelton-Scott drove the pace in the front group for Groves. The 21-year-old had come over the final climb feeling good.
“It was always the plan to put him under pressure,” Groves said of Dainese, his former SEG Racing teammate. “I’m good mates with him so I know how he climbs and how he rides so I knew that I’d have him in the climbs.”
Dainese made it back to the front on the outskirts of Wangaratta as the peloton swelled, a few late salvos were neutralised, and the sprint teams started jostling for position.
“We knew EF was going to be strong,” Groves said of the sprint. “They have a really strong team here and had Jimmy in the break, so they never had to chase all day. They had the strongest lead-out and I had Cam [Meyer] and Dion [Smith] just hold me on the side of the bunch. And then coming into the last corner it was just my job to slot in.
“I think I came round the corner maybe sixth wheel or something [about] 400 metres to go. I was confident I could come over the top.”
He did so with relative ease.
“The guys have been riding so well together that they really deserved it,” Groves said. “Today was a perfect team effort and I’m pretty happy to repay them with a win.”
And so the Sun Tour heads towards its second mountain-top finish. Saturday’s penultimate stage features a 6.8 km climb to Tolmie early in proceedings, then ends with the tough 16 km ascent to the Mt. Buller alpine resort. It’s tomorrow that the race’s overall winner will be decided.
Hindley goes in with a four-second lead over 2017 winner Damien Howson (Mitchelton-Scott) while 20-year-old Seb Berwick (St George) is another two seconds back. Another three riders are within a minute of the overall lead.
As Howson said after yesterday’s stage atop Falls Creek, it’s all still to play for.