Juan Jose Cobo has this afternoon been confirmed as the winner of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, with Team Sky's Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins completing the podium, making this the most successful Grand Tour ever for Great Britain in terms of the overall placings. Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale edged out Leopard Trek's Daniele Bennati and Lampre ISD's Alessandro Petacchi to win the bunch sprint in Madrid, his third stage victory in this year's race. Rabobank's Bauke Mollema finished ninth to pip Katusha's Joaquin Rodrigez to the green points jersey.
Cobo’s winning margin of 13 seconds makes this 66th edition of the race the joint third closest ever. In theory, there were up to 32 bonus seconds available to Froome today – 6 at each of the two intermediate sprints, and 20 if he won the stage, although with a number of riders targeting the final sprint, the latter was always likely to be beyond Froome’s reach.
While tradition dictates that the final stage of the Vuelta, like the Tour de France, is pretty much a procession for the GC contenders, the Geox-TMC rider certainly wasn’t taking his victory for granted.
Speaking prior to the start of today’s stage, Froome himself pointed out that he still had a slim chance of winning and would fight for the red jersey, but a three-man breakaway group heading off up the road ahead of the first of two intermediate sprints pretty much put paid to any lingering hopes he had.
Those three escapees - Joan Horrach of Katusha, Jose Alberto Benitez from Andalucia-Caja Granada and the Liquigas-Cannondale rider Damiano Caruso - were reeled in with a little over 10 kilometres to go.
Coming into the final kilometre, Leopard Trek’s Robert Wagner was leading the peloton, seeking to launch team mate Bennati to his second successive stage win, but instead it was Petacchi who came out of his slipstream.
The Lampre-ISD rider couldn’t quite sustain his drive for the line, however, as the 21-year-old Sagan came through to cap what has been a fantastic debut Grand Tour.
Cobo, who has stuck to Froome like a limpet these past few days, came over the line in 20th position, one behind the Team Sky rider, a huge grin breaking out on the face of the Cantabrian rider who this week has often looked like a man with the cares of the world on his shoulders, rather than the Vuelta leader's jersey.
When the riders rolled out from the Circuito del Jarama motor racing circuit this morning, Mollema and Rodriguez had been tied on 115 points each, with the Spaniard holding the advantage due to his having won two stages.
Mollema, however, picked up 7 points for finishing the stage in 9th place, with Rodriguez not featuring in the lead group of 60 riders that contested the finish, the katusha man crossing the line 36 seconds later.
David Moncoutié of Cofidis had already sealed his fourth consecutive victory in the mountains competition yesterday, while Cobo also ended the race on top of the combined classification, with his Geox-TMC outfit adding the team prize.
Vuelta Stage 21 Result 1 SAGAN, Peter Liquigas-Cannondale 2h 20' 59'' 2 BENNATI, Daniele Leopard Trek All at same time 3 PETACCHI, Alessandro Lampre-ISD 4 DEGENKOLB, John HTC-Highroad 5 MAES, Nikolas Quick Step 6 LIGTHART, Pim Vacansoleil-DCM 7 SUTTON, Chris Team Sky 8 DE KORT, Koen Skil-Shimano 9 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank 10 REYNES, Vicente Omega Pharma-Lotto 11 MORENO, Daniel Katusha 12 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky 13 GASPAROTTO, Enrico Astana 14 PAOLINI, Luca Katusha 15 HAEDO, Juan Jose Saxo Bank-SunGard 16 DE LA FUENTE, David Geox-TMC 17 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale 18 LAGUTIN, Sergey Vacansoleil-DCM 19 FROOME, Chris Team Sky 20 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC Vuelta Final Overall Standings 1 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC 84h 59' 31'' 2 FROOME, Chris 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.