The first thing that strikes you about Kaden Groves is not his speed, race nous or growing list of major wins. It’s how considerate he is. On the eve of the Vuelta a Espana’s final rest day, the 24-year-old has cause to be one-minded. Selfish, even.
Groves claimed two consecutive stage wins in the opening week with a green Alpecin-Deceuninck team and at the time we speak is on course to become the first Australian to win the points classification at the Spanish Grand Tour, which he went on to do. He’s also coming into the final week of the Grand Tour – when accumulative fatigue reaches such an exhaustive point that competition is as much about mental as it is physical strength.
The sprinter sends a text to confirm an interview time for the rest day, suggesting 5pm CET, which is eight hours behind where I am in Melbourne. I happily agree, saying I’ll set an alarm, before Groves messages back.
“Actually scrap that,” he writes. “I checked the time zone that’s super late.”
He brings the interview forward several hours, meaning I won’t have to stay up past midnight. Such consideration for others in the WorldTour is rare, especially during a Grand Tour and from someone in his position. If I wasn’t paying attention before, I am now.
Groves when speaking about his ambitions at the Vuelta is assertive but not cocky. He’s not making brash statements, though there is nothing in his tone to suggest he won’t achieve what he wants in Spain. He speaks slowly in a broad Aussie accent that hints at his Queensland birthplace.
The Vuelta may have been light on top-flight sprinters, but it wasn’t on headline acts. Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick-Step), whose name alone can render lesser rivals to second place before a race has even begun, is second on the points classification, something Groves is mindful of but creditably not giving gravitas to.
“I wouldn’t say confident,” he says when asked if he can become the first Australian to win the points classification at the Vuelta. “I mean, I’m confident in my own ability but there’s still some really hard days where I do not think I can contend in the intermediate sprints so we’re really going to have to make some breakaways, myself personally,” he says.
Throughout our conversation Groves is equally mindful of the two remaining sprint stages in the final week. “There hasn’t been too many opportunities [for sprinters] so we were lucky to get two on the board early, but number three would be nice also,” he affirms.
Number three came on the final stage in Madrid, which was anything but a ceremonial procession, with Groves following an attack from Evenepoel, to form part of an elite breakaway that ultimately contested line honours in the capital. He secured the green jersey with a comfortable 79-point margin over his Belgian rival.
In 12 months, Groves went from making his Grand Tour debut at the same race with BikeExchange-Jayco (now Jayco-Alula), winning a stage, to claiming three and a classification that at the Vuelta is far from synonymous with sprinters, much less sprinters who lost two teammates during the race.
“We’re all super motivated. We’re a really good, close group here as well. We prepared together for two weeks already. Actually, the team did three weeks, I just joined for two weeks because I was in Glasgow at the Worlds,” Groves says. “But we did altitude camp before with this group, so we all know each other super well and we’ve all come in here with sights set on taking the green to Madrid.”
Synergy is central to success in sprint teams and not as easy to achieve as Groves makes it sound, especially considering half of the Alpecin-Deceuninck squad that started the Vuelta were making their Grand Tour debuts. Groves’ consideration doesn’t just extend to the media, but to all those teammates, who he genuinely credits multiple times throughout our 20-minute conversation.
“I’ve got to mention that [there’s] still two guys in the race now and it’s their first Grand Tour, so it’s quite impressive the way they’ve lifted to the level,” he adds.
In 12 months, Groves has also doubled his number of victories for the year. Last season it was four in total. With Alpecin-Deceuninck it is eight – and there’s a suggestion he’s not done yet. “I have a rough plan of how I’ll finish my season actually,” Groves says.
Alpecin-Deceuninck is home to heavyweight Jasper Philipsen, who was the benchmark at the Tour de France in July, winning four stages and the green jersey, and Mathieu van der Poel, who claimed Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and the men’s road World Championships this year. But Groves in his first season with the team has had his own shot at major events. He also won a stage at the Giro d’Italia in May before withdrawing due to illness.
Part of the appeal in transferring to Alpecin-Deceuninck was the focus it puts on sprinting and the Classics, rather than general classification. Groves may have to balance his ambitions with Philipsen and Van der Poel in the future, but he stands to have maximum support in the races he does contest, as opposed to splitting resources with a climber, as was the case at his former stable.
“Obviously nothing is set in stone yet, but I believe there’s a high chance I can go to the Classics next year and do a little bit more of a Classics program along with those two,” Groves continues.
“I already did some races with Jasper but really not a lot because we’re trying to spread the sprinters out across the calendar as well.
“It doesn’t make too much sense to race us both together, but we actually get along really well and have a good relationship so there’s no competition between us in the team, and I think it’s really good for me to be teammates with him as well.”
Groves made changes when he joined the Belgium-registered outfit, opening his 2023 campaign at the Tour Down Under and then his account with two wins at the Volta a Catalunya in March. Added to that was also line honours at the Volta Limburg Classic in April.
“I think I’ve taken big steps physically this year joining Alpecin. We’ve done a lot more altitude camps, we’ve developed my engine a bit better, but also, it’s a different dynamic for me and new position in the team, being a full leader,” he says. “So, there’s some challenges with pressure but it also means I get the freedom to target the stages that I want whereas my first Grand Tour last year we were there with Simon Yates, so he also is taking guys for support and also taking that pressure off me.”
For Groves that pressure is manifested internally, rather than external. “The pressure I put on myself, the expectations I have of myself,” he clarifies. “But also wanting to do a good job and really represent this team well.”
And that he has done. The team collectively has won stages across all three Grand Tours this season, with Groves successful in the two he started.
“My management and directors and team are super supportive, and they really believe in me so there’s no pressure on that side of things, especially being in a race also where you’re considered a favourite, I think it’s a first for me,” he says. “I think we can be really proud of that and again I’ve showed my level and the team have really lifted to that and it’s also thanks to our performance staff and our directors who really set a plan.
“It’s the commitment like this that I think reflects in the results.”