Evenepoel safely keeps Vuelta lead as Groves wins 11th stage

ALMERÍA, Spain (AP) — Remco Evenepoel safely kept the overall lead at the Spanish Vuelta on Wednesday while Kaden Groves prevailed in the final sprint to win his first Grand Tour stage after more riders had to withdraw because of positive coronavirus tests.

Simon Yates, Groves’ teammate at BikeExchange-Jayco, was among those who had to leave the race because of the coronavirus. The 2018 Vuelta champion was fifth in the general classification. Pavel Sivakov, who was ninth, also had to withdraw.

“This morning, with the news of Simon being positive for COVID, all the boys were pretty disappointed, and this is the best way to bounce back after such bad news,” the 23-year-old Groves said. “I really have to celebrate but I also wish he was here because he’s part of this team.”

The Australian crossed the line ahead of Danny van Poppel and Tim Merlier to take the victory on the 11th stage.

“I have to thank all the guys, we’ve been riding all day and we set up early for this win,” Groves said. “With crosswind in the last four kilometers, the guys did a perfect job to put me in the front fresh. Being my first Grand Tour win, it sure takes the cake.”

Evenepoel finished in the peloton along with three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic, who stayed at 2 minutes, 41 seconds off the lead with 10 stages left. Enric Mas remained more than three minutes behind Evenepoel in third place.

Evenepoel had increased his lead with a strong time trial on Tuesday. The 22-year-old Belgian from team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl has held the leader’s red jersey since the sixth stage.

Evenepoel lost an important teammate on Wednesday, though, as world champion Julian Alaphilippe had to withdraw from the race after a crash. Alaphilippe had to be taken into an ambulance with a dislocated right shoulder. The team said there was no fracture.

“It’s definitely not a beautiful day like we hoped for,” Evenepoel said. “It’s definitely a big loss for our team, especially on a quiet stage. It’s quite a pity. I hope he does well and he’s not suffering too much. Julian was doing really well in a lot of stages. It’s a pity that we lose the world champion because he was in a really good shape. I have confidence in my other teammates also and I’m sure they will do very well in the coming stages.”

Riders on Thursday will face a long flat stage with an uphill finale in Estepona.

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