Two big names attract most of the headlines for Alpecin-Deceuninck. Mathieu van der Poel, new world champion, fast-finishing all-rounder, a rider capable of the near-impossible. And Jasper Philipsen, the best sprinter in the world right now, winner of four stages at this year’s Tour de France.
But behind those two is another fast-finisher who is quietly establishing himself as an imposing presence in the bunch, and a reliable winner at the WorldTour level.
On Tuesday’s stage 4 of the Vuelta a España, Kaden Groves sprinted to victory with a wily, patient effort on the uphill drag into Tarragona. It was the 24-year-old Australian’s second career stage win at the Vuelta in what has been an impressive first season with Alpecin-Deceuninck.
So how did he get here?
Groves has been racing at the WorldTour level since 2020 when he joined the Mitchelton-Scott team after a stagiare stint with the Australian squad the year prior. He had modest success early, winning a stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in what was his first stage race as a fully fledged WorldTour rider.
The 2021 season brought just one win too – a victory in the prologue at the UCI 2.1 Tour of Slovakia – but it was in 2022 that Groves really began to establish himself as a name to watch.
After coming close to victory in several sprint finishes at the Tour of Oman, Groves claimed his first WorldTour win on a lumpy stage 2 of the Volta a Catalunya in March 2022; a stage which featured more than 2,300 metres of climbing.
The following month, at the Tour of Turkey, Groves took a stage win by beating two of the world’s best pure sprinters: then-rival Jasper Philipsen and Sam Bennett. It was a promising sign of things to come.
The Queenslander would have to wait a while for his next win, but it was a big one. On stage 11 of his debut Vuelta, Groves proved faster than Danny van Poppel, Tim Merlier, Juan Sebastián Molano, and former world champ, Mads Pedersen, to take his first Grand Tour stage win.
When Alpecin-Deceuninck stepped up to WorldTour level in 2023, it did so with Groves in its ranks. The Australian had come into the squad as a replacement for the outgoing Tim Merlier who was on his way to the team now known as Soudal Quick-Step.
It took a while for Groves to find his feet in the new team and with a new lead-out, but by late March everything seemed to have fallen into place. He returned to the Volta a Catalunya and sprinted to another two stage wins, both of them again on lumpy terrain.
Groves took that form to the Volta Limburg Classic, a Dutch one-day race with roughly 2,700 metres of climbing, where he again put his climbing chops to use. He didn’t wait for the sprint on this occasion – after fighting his way into a late breakaway of three (where he was outnumbered by two Lotto Dstny riders) Groves attacked on the last climb, got to the finish with Maxim Van Gils, then handily won the uphill cobbled sprint.
Groves’ Giro d’Italia debut in May 2023 was something of a mixed bag. He made headlines as early as stage 2, but not in the way he would have wanted. When Groves nudged Davide Ballerini with around 3 km to go in the stage, that contact set off a chain reaction through the bunch which caused a significant crash. Race leader and world champion Remco Evenepoel publicly called Groves out for the nudge, telling Sporza “it was not a nice action”.
Groves defended the move, saying “I felt that he was closing me into the barriers on the left. It was a defensive move – I pushed back.”
Groves was third that day, and the same again on stage 3. But if those near misses – and being called out in the media by the world champion – fazed him, it didn’t show. On stage 5, Groves bounced back to win a stage, on a wet day that will be remembered as much for a dog bringing down Evenepoel, and for images of Mark Cavendish crashing in the sprint and sliding across the finish line.
Groves left the Giro early after battling a stomach bug for several days. He then did only a couple of races between mid May and the start of the Vuelta in late August – Tour de Suisse and the Road World Championships – instead opting for a couple of altitude camps to prepare for the Vuelta. That approach appears to have paid off.
On stage 2, a strange, wet day where the GC was neutralised 9 km from the finish, Groves won the bunch sprint for second behind solo winner Andreas Kron. And then on Tuesday’s stage 4, the first stage decided by a bunch sprint, Groves managed to get his arms in the air.
Not that it was easy. Groves’ teammate Robbe Ghys crashed on the tight final corner, and then there was a tough uphill drag to the finish line. But Groves waited patiently in the wheel of Juan Sebastián Molano before overhauling the Colombian roughly 25 metres from the line. Another win in the Catalunya region for Groves.
At just 24 years old, Groves is still young; still yet to reach his prime. That’s an exciting prospect for a rider who’s already winning tough Grand Tour sprints. Beating Philipsen and Bennett in that stage of the 2022 Tour of Turkey shows he perhaps has further potential when it comes to pure bunch sprints, even if it seems unlikely that’s where he’ll focus his energy.
For now at least, Alpecin-Deceuninck has Jasper Philipsen for the big bunch sprints. Groves will continue to have his opportunities on the hillier days that are too hard for the pure sprinters, and in the uphill sprint finishes. So far that strategy seems to be working nicely for him and his team.
Reflecting on his 2023 season after Tuesday’s Vuelta stage win, Groves was animated, and rightly so.
“I’m really happy – it’s been a good year,” he said. “I had a stage win in the Giro and now one in the Vuelta quite early and hopefully it’s not the last.”
Groves could get another opportunity as early as today’s stage 5 – a lumpy day that could end in a reduced bunch sprint. Other opportunities are likely to present themselves too – stage 7, 12, 19, and 21 could suit Groves, depending on how they unfold. And then there’s the Vuelta’s points classification, which Groves currently leads.
But even if his win on stage 4 is Groves’ only success at this year’s Vuelta, the race has already been a triumph. Groves has raced three Grand Tours in his career so far, and has now won a stage in all three. That’s a record any rider would be delighted with.
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