Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was the favourite to win stage 21 of the Vuelta, and the green jersey-wearer delivered, but the manner of doing so was far from expected. Mindful of attacking on the finishing laps, the Australian was quick to follow Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) when he accelerated 38 km out, and the pair got themselves into a formidable six-rider breakaway. The peloton had a hard time chasing on the technical circuit, only tagging the tail of the lead group inside the last kilometre, but the attackers were still not done, and Evenepoel led Groves out to a spectacular third stage win at the race.
Shortly after the winner crossed the line, Jumbo-Visma rolled over as one to celebrate the overall win of Sepp Kuss ahead of Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič in a historic team 1-2-3.
- The usual sense of order that illustrates a Grand Tour finale never really arrived in Madrid, with Alpecin-Deceuninck clearly anxious about Groves’s points advantage. They kept the pace infernal until the intermediate sprint, even forcing a split in the final approach, but they needn’t have worried, Groves easily mopping up the lion’s share as Evenepoel stayed out of the way.
- This year’s Vuelta has been uncommonly dramatic, not always of the good kind, and against the odds, stage 21 continued that trend. Just inside 40 km to go, none other than Evenepoel launched a counter-attack from the peloton, closely marked by Groves, Ganna – Omar Fraile and Kim Heiduk helped them in the earlier drive before dropping back to the peloton. This elite group made short work of closing the gap to the leading trio that had broken free five kilometres earlier – Rui Costa, Lennard Kämna and Nico Denz – creating an incredibly strong move stacked with Grand Tour stage winners, five of them with at least one at this Vuelta.
- A combination of the technical features of the course and the sheer strength out front made the peloton’s job nigh on impossible, especially with Alpecin-Deceuninck, Ineos Grenadiers and Bora-Hansgrohe working to disrupt the bunch’s progress for their teammates up the road. The leaders worked as a unit until the last kilometre where their hesitation brought the peloton back in touch, but even as the breakaway was tagged, Evenepoel put the hammer down and essentially served as a lead-out rider for Groves who still had enough left to hold off the pack despite the work he’d done to stay away.
- There’s not usually much to analyse on the last day of a Grand Tour, but there was some exemplary teamwork on show on Sunday evening. The six powerful leaders held a margin of around 20 seconds for 40 km on Madrid’s criterium-style circuit, thanks to a combination of the strength and names in the move, and the work of their teammates in the chasing bunch. Teams DSM-Firmenich, UAE Team Emirates and EF Education-EasyPost tried to grind down the gap, but they had only so many matches to burn, and then there was the disruption they had to contend with. There was never an Ineos Grenadiers rider absent from the first few wheels, ready to pull hard on the brakes in the corners and shave some momentum off the chase, with Alpecin-Deceuninck and Bora-Hansgrohe also there to lend themselves to the cause. This undoubtedly played a big part in the breakaway’s success; though the catch was technically made, the peloton had no time to organise itself and prepare for the sprint.
Quote of the day
“It’s incredible. I think today was the stage I suffered the most of the whole race, so now I’m just glad it’s over!”Kuss basking in Vuelta victory after stage 21
Social media highlights
It’s been quite the ride for Jumbo-Visma …
… which capped off the 2023 Vuelta, and with it a history-making Grand Tour season, with a commemorative kit that highlights all three victories, modelled here by Jan “Blue Steel” Tratnik.
Someone else who pulled out all the stops – or had them pulled out for him – was Remco Evenepoel, for whom Specialized produced a polka-dot S-Works Tarmac, and let’s not dwell too long on that Vuelta-issued skinsuit.
Speaking of Remco: Yes, Soudal Quick-Step admin, we are.
The 2023 Vuelta stayed in character with a thrilling and frantic finale, the peloton forced to chase an extraordinarily strong breakaway in the tricky closing laps.
And it all ended in the polka-dot jersey leading out green: the perfect ending to a brilliant final stage.
Last words for GC Kuss.
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