Aussie Groves up for final-week battle for Vuelta green


Remco Evenepoel may have lost his chance to retain his red jersey as the Vuelta a Espana champion - but Australian Kaden Groves will be out to now make sure the dangerously liberated Belgian doesn't snatch his green jersey as points classification winner.

Evenepoel, who's out of contention to win the race overall after a calamitous stage in the Pyrenees on Friday, has bounced back swiftly to grab the King of the Mountains jersey while also moving closer to the race's fastest man Groves in the battle for the points leader's green jersey.

After two back-to-back stage wins in the opening week, nobody had looked likely to get close to Groves as he homes in on becoming the first Australian ever to win the jersey.

But the dazzling allrounder Evenepoel has effectively been freed up to surf like a shark for the smaller prizes now that he's out of the general classification race which is being dominated by Jumbo-Visma.

And after another lively performance from Evenepoel on Sunday in a 15th stage won by former world champion Rui Costa in a sprint finish in Lekunberri, the Belgian, who finished fourth, closed the gap to 73 points in second place to Groves in the race for green.

Groves' Alpecin-Deceuninck team worked hard on Sunday in the lumpy 158.3km stage from Pamplona but the Queenslander Groves didn't sound like a man who's panicking should Evenepoel turn his attention to annexing the green jersey.

"I have no control over Remco Evenepoel's possible points jersey ambitions - he rides his race and I ride mine," shrugged the 24-year-old.

"He got points (today), but I have to give my kudos to him for that. He no longer competes for the general classification, but is now focusing very much on stage victories."

That could make Evenepoel doubly dangerous in the final week as he would also be able to potentially scoop intermediate sprint points en route to seeking more stage successes after winning a couple so far.

But he didn't contest an intermediate sprint stage late on Sunday which bodes well for Groves, who will have two more chances to grab stage wins before the end of the race.

Former world road champion Costa held off Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) following the 158.5-kilometre ride from Pamplona to Lekunberri, as Evenepoel ended in fourth.

Portugal's canny Costa won the day after a late game of cat-and-mouse with runner-up Lennard Kamna and third-placed Santiago Buitrago to claim his first Grand Tour win since 2013.

Evenepoel, tireless after his brilliant Saturday comeback win, attacked several times and, despite evidently tiring, he produced a bug finish to end up just two seconds slower than the leading trio.

He is still over 16 minutes off American Sepp Kuss, who retained the leader's red jersey ahead of his more illustrious teammates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard.