Groves bangs handlebars after unlucky Vuelta near-miss

Kaden Groves has been left reflecting glumly on a "super disappointing" near-miss after a mechanical issue denied the Australian his chance of a third stage triumph at the 2023 Vuelta a Espana.

Hot favourite to win the 12th stage of the Spanish Grand Tour in Zaragoza on Thursday, the Queenslander, who's already proved himself comfortably the fastest sprinter in the race, ended up slapping his handlebars in frustration after this time finishing runner-up.

Groves, who had become the first Australian ever to win two consecutive stages of La Vuelta in the opening week, was left bemoaning a slipped chain as he took a bump just as he was about to launch his sprint for the line.

Though he recovered quickly for the high-speed denouement, the 24-year-old Alpecin-Deceuninck's late charge as he ate up the ground on the leader was still too little too late for him to overhaul UAE Team Emirates' victor, Juan Sebastian Molano.

"In the end we got bumped when UAE came with momentum and my chain actually dropped," Groves told reporters afterwards.

"I managed to get it on and showed a really strong sprint but unfortunately I was too far back, it was too late. In the end, it was an unlucky mechanical I think, I had to come from quite a long way back. 

"It's super-disappointing. It could have been win number three but we're still in the hunt for the points jersey, which is also important to us now."

Groves actually extended his lead in the bid to become Australia's first winner of the Vuelta green jersey as overall points victor, now 118 points clear of his nearest pursuer, Dutchman Marijn van den Berg.

But with so few opportunities for the sprinters on a mountain-heavy Grand Tour, it was a huge disappointment for Groves, who will feel he should have won all four of the sprint stages so far.

He will have two more big chances to double his tally of stage wins before the race finishes a week on Sunday.

On the 151km stage between Olvega and Zaragoza, the last before the race heads back into the mountains, Colombian Molano was rewarded by the enterprise of UAE who forged to the front to take the initiative from Groves' Alpecin outfit, who had delivered their man into the almost perfect position with 250 metres left.

But the knock as his lead-out man faded and just as Groves was about to get into full flight, left him reflecting ruefully: "At least I had the speed."

In the race for overall honours, it proved a quiet day with American Sepp Kuss still in the leader's red jersey before Friday's eagerly-anticipated 13th stage when the race crosses the border for an ascent of the famed Tour de France mountain, the Col du Tourmalet.

The 135km stage will feature the latest showdown between Jumbo-Visma, with their trio of Kuss, Giro d'Italia winner Primoz Roglic and Tour de France champ Jonas Vingegaard in the top 10, and Soudal-Quickstep's exceptional defending champion, Remco Evenepoel.

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