Daniele Bennati of Leopard Trek, denied victory in Haro on Tuesday as his leadout man Robert Wagner took a wrong turn on the run-in, finally got a deserved stage win in Vitoria on today's penultiate stage of the race. Italian sprinters dominated the finale, with Astana's Enrico Gasperotto second and Damiano Caruso of Liquigas-Cannondale third. Team Sky's Chris Froome was unable to reduce his 13 second deficit on race leader Juan Jose Cobo and remains second, and with just tomorrow's stage in Madrid to come, the Geox-TMC rider is set to clinch the overall title - but two British riders will complete the podium.
While it’s not a mathematical impossibility for Froome to win the Vuelta tomorrow – winning tomorrow’s stage with Cobo out of the top three is one permutation that would give him the necessary time to overhaul the Spaniard – the likelihood is that he will finish the race in second place on GC, with the final stage typically seeing no attacks on the leader.
Nevertheless, that would put Froome alongside Robert Millar, twice second in the Vuelta and once in the Giro d’Italia, as the only Britons to have finished as runner-up in one of cycling’s three Grand Tours.
With Bradley Wiggins poised to join his Team Sky colleague on the podium by finishing third, moreover, the 66th edition of the Vuelta is poised to become Great Britain’s most successful ever by having two riders in the top three.
With a relatively flat 45 kilometre run-in to the line today meaning that either a break would stay away or the race would finish with a bunch sprint, the closely-marked Froome’s best hope of getting any time back on Cobo lay in trying to pick up seconds at the two intermediate sprints.
A 27-man breakaway group had got away early on in the race’s second day in the Basque Country, meaning there would be no opportunity for the Team Sky rider to go for the time bonuses on offer to the first threee riders across the first intermediate sprint point on the stage.
However, race organisers decided to move the position of the second intermediate sprint until after the day’s final climb, perhaps in an effort to keep the fight for the GC alive until the last possible moment.
With only Carlos Barredo of Rabobank, winner of Stage 15 of last year’s Vuelta, still out from that earlier break, Froome could have made up 4 seconds on Cobo, and spotting what he thought was the banner to mark the sprint, jumped off up the road to try and beat the race leader to the line.
Unfortunately for Froome, the banner he had spotted was the one marking 20 kilometres to go, with the actual sprint point a couple of kilometres further ahead.
By the time the main group reached it, Cobo’s team mate Carlos Sastre had ridden off the front of the main bunch to clinch the seconds on offer to the second man over, and thereby deny them to the Team Sky man, while Wiggins led the bunch over to claim the final 2 seconds remaining.
Sastre, the 2008 Tour de France winner who has done some sterling work for Cobo in this year’s Vuelta, bridged across to Barredo and managed to drop his compatriot with 8 kilometres to go.
By now, however, the peloton, with Astana and Leopard Trek driving things along on behalf of their respective sprinters Bennati and Gasperotto, had Sastre in their sights and he was caught with 2 kilometres left to race ahead of those riders contesting the bunch sprint.
The destination of one jersey was settled today, with Cofidis rider David Moncoutié sealing victory in the mountains competiton for a remarkable fourth year in a row, as his closest challenger, Matteo Montaguti of AG2R, failed to get into today’s break.
The points classificaton is set to go to the wire, however, with Bauke Mollema of Rabobank finishing two places ahead of Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez to draw level with the Spaniard in the fight for the green jersey. Rodriguez will wear the green jersey on tomorrow's stage by virtue of having won two stages, but should Mollema get more points than him again tomorrow, it will be the Dutchman who will win the classification.
All that remains now is what should, according to the script, be a processional stage into Madrid tomorrow ahead of ten laps of the traditional closing circuit in the centre of the Spanish capital.
Vuelta Stage 20 Result
1 BENNATI, Daniele Leopard Trek 4h 39' 20'' 2 GASPAROTTO, Enrico Astana All at same time 3 CARUSO, Damiano Liquigas-Cannondale 4 VANMARCKE, Sep Garmin-Cervelo 5 DE KORT, Koen Skil-Shimano 6 MORI, Manuele Lampre-ISD 7 MALACARNE, Davide Quick Step 8 VANDEWALLE, Kristof Quick Step 9 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank 10 CAPECCHI, Eros Liquigas-Cannondale 11 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha 12 MORENO, Daniel Katusha 13 ISASI, Iñaki Euskaltel-Euskadi 14 SÖRENSEN, Nicki Saxo Bank-SunGard 15 NERZ, Dominik Liquigas-Cannondale 16 POELS, Wouter Vacansoleil-DCM 17 MATE, Luis Ángel Cofidis 18 ERVITI, Imanol Movistar 19 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek 20 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale Vuelta Overall Standings after Stage 20 1 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC 82h 38' 32'' 2 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky + 13'' 3 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 1' 39'' 4 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 2' 03'' 5 MENCHOV, Denis Geox-TMC + 3' 48'' 6 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 4' 13'' 7 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 4' 31'' 8 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 4' 45'' 9 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 5' 20'' 10 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 5' 33''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.