Sepp Kuss has sealed his Vuelta a Espana triumph on the day Kaden Groves proved the race’s last-gasp star, sprinting to his third stage victory in this year’s edition and becoming the first Australian ever to win the green jersey as points classification winner.
Kuss enjoyed the ceremonial ride into Madrid on Sunday (Monday AEST) as he became the first American to win a Grand Tour since Chris Horner at the same race 10 years ago.
But there was no such leisurely luxury for 24-year-old Queenslander Groves, who signed off from a spectacular breakthrough tour by having to sprint flat-out to victory in the Spanish capital on the final stage for his third victory in the three-week race.
It was a landmark triumph that ensured the man from Gympie will take home the green jersey as points winner, identifying him as the fastest and most consistent finisher in the race.
He’s not only the first Australian points winner at La Vuelta, but also the first since Michael Matthews at the 2017 Tour de France to take the points jersey at any Grand Tour.
He’s only the fifth in all to do so after Matthews, Robbie McEwen (Tour de France 2002, 2004 and 2006), Cadel Evans (2010 Giro d’Italia) and Baden Cooke (2003 Tour de France).
“It’s pretty special. I need to thank my team as without them it wasn’t possible,” he said.
But Groves didn’t have everything his own way in a hectic final stage as Belgian superstar Remco Evenepoel, last year’s race winner who was the Aussie’s nearest challenger for the green jersey, energised the 21st stage, pushing for a last-gasp victory himself.
Groves had to chase down Evenepoel when he made a break but still had enough strength left after an exhausting day in which he’d also added to his points lead with an intermediate sprint win to then hold on to the brilliant Belgian’s final push from half a kilometre out.
He finally overhauled an exhausted Evenepoel approaching the line while no other sprinter had the legs to even challenge Groves in the run-in.
“Remco was a threat for the green jersey so I suspected he might try something, not just to try to take the jersey, but to try and win the stage,” said Groves.
“I knew I had to follow him, so when he went, thankfully Edward [Planckaert, Groves’ Alpecin–Deceuninck teammate) did a great job to pull me across the gap.”
Evenepoel may have been dethroned as champion but this dazzling young rider ended up winning three stages as well as the king of the mountains classification as best climber and also the award for most combative rider.
It was a great day too for Kuss, normally a ‘super domestique’ who helps out his more celebrated Jumbo-Visma teammates, Jonas Vingegaard — the two-time Tour de France winner — and Primoz Roglic, a three-time Vuelta winner.
Instead, Vingegaard and Roglic ended up finishing second and third overall, capping a historic treble for the Dutch team Jumbo-Visma, who swept all three Grand Tour events this year with Roglic winning the Giro in May and Vingegaard taking Le Tour in July.