Covid and Alaphilippe crash threaten Remco’s red quest, only a good day for Groves

Kaden Groves wins his first Grand Tour stage as Covid and a crash spoil stage 11.

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On a day lacking thrilling racing action until the last few kilometres thanks to a headwind, an anomalous calm this Vuelta a España, off-road issues instead took centre stage.

Stage 11 provided a depressing turn of events in Spain. Two of the top 10 in Simon Yates (BikeExhange-Jayco) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) were the latest to test positive for Covid-19 and be withdrawn from the race.

“How can we have a relegation system, risking the future of decade old teams, during these unprecedented times of sickness,” Tao Geoghegan Hart tweeted before the start, an honest opinion with no skin in this particular game. “Sport is not fair, granted. But this just doesn’t seem right, not now and not like this. I would like to see solidarity between all riders, of all teams.”

Soon, the Brit had scrubbed his thoughts from the internet due to the abuse that usually follows offering up candidness to social media. More than 20 riders have now had to quite the Vuelta because of Covid-19. Sivakov after his “best-ever ITT” the day before while Yates’ removal dents BikeExchange-Jayco’s big hopes to go clear of the relegation spots that will be decided sooner rather than later.

The disappointment of losing Yates will be placated by Kaden Groves taking his debut Grand Tour stage victory. An assured leadout from BikeExchange-Jayco before the Australian sprinter picked his wheels and timed his burst of speed well to hold off the charging Tim Merlier and Danny van Poppel.

“It feels fantastic,” Groves said. “This morning with the news of Simon going positive for Covid all the boys were pretty disappointed, it’s the best way to bounce back.” Crucial points when the team could feel them slipping through their fingers.

At the other end of proceedings, a day to forget for Quick-Step AlphaVinyl who are instead solely trying to win for winning’s sake. Race leader Remco Evenepoel has been head and shoulders above his rivals on the road so far this race but the spate of Covid cases potentially being the only thing to catch up to him this race is clearly at the forefront of his mind.

“I have to say that yesterday at the finish there were so many people it was actually quite dangerous,” Evenepoel said of yesterday’s crowded time trial finish.

“I hope the organisation can bring a bit more safety into the finish because yesterday was quite like a nightmare.”

After this statement came more bad news. During stage 11 his most crucial teammate Julian Alaphilippe crashed hard, clutching his shoulder as he was packed up into an ambulance, television cameras lingering all the while for the Frenchman who’s had an unlucky season to say the very least.

A quiet day on the road as the tension ratcheted up behind the scenes, a Vuelta a España crescendo-ing to a finale with no chance of being devoid of drama, especially where the precocious Belgian red jersey is concerned.

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