Alberto Contador has won the Vuelta for the second time in his career, just a month after returning to racing with Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank following a six-month absence from competition following his ban due to his positive test for clenbuterol in the 2010 Tour de France. The stage win in Madrid today went to Argos Shimano's John Degenkolb, the German picking up his fifth sprint victory of this year's race, today holding off Liquigas-Cannondale's Elia Viviani and Daniele Bennati of RadioShack-Nissan to cross the line first.
Degenkolb had already seen his chances of winning the points competition disappear, but at the very end of a race that has been one of the most dramatic Grand Tours in recent years, there was still time for one final twist in that classification as Movistar's Alejandro Valverde finished in sixth place in the sprint to snatch the green jersey from Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez.
The latter, who lost the lead of the Giro d'Italia in May on the very last day in Milan when Garmin's Ryder Hesjedal overhauled him in the time trial, had led this year's Vuelta for a fortnight and defended his lead through three tough days in the mountains last weekend before Contador rode to a sensational victory on what had seemed in advance to be an innocuous Stage 17 on Wednesday.
Rodriguez completes the podium behind Contador and Valverde, the latter also taking the combined jersey, while Movistar won the team classification. There were no changes in time gaps between the leading trio today, Contador winning by 1 minute 13 seconds from Valverde, with Rodriguez a further 21 seconds back.
Team Sky's Chris Froome, runner-up last year, held on to his fourth place, more than ten minutes down on Contador as the exertions of a season that was disrupted early on by illness and then saw him recover to clinch second place in the Tour de France behind team mate Bradley Wiggins finally caught up with him.
This year's Vuelta may have been a race too far for the Kenya-born Briton, but he'll be more interested than most in the route of the 2013 Tour when it's announced in Paris next month, with the prospect of him being Sky's designated leader, depending on the parcours. While the past three weeks may have finished in frustration, his first experience as team leader in a Grand Tour will have been a valuable one.
Crossing the line, Contador appeared to hold up seven fingers, possibly representing the seven Grand Tours, including the 2008 Vuelta, where he has finished on the top step of the podium - although of course he lost two of those, the 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d'Italia, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport banned him in February.
Vuelta Stage 21 Result 1 DEGENKOLB, John ARG 2h 44' 57'' 2 VIVIANI, Elia LIQ All at same time 3 BENNATI, Daniele RNT 4 DAVIS, Allan OGE 5 FERNÁNDEZ, Koldo GRS 6 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 7 STEEGMANS, Gert OPQ 8 STYBAR, Zdenek OPQ 9 KREDER, Raymond GRS 10 VERDUGO, Gorka EUS 11 LIGTHART, Pim VCD 12 DUQUE, Leonardo COF 13 BRESCHEL, Matti RAB 14 CARDOSO, Manuel CJR 15 LODEWYCK, Klaas BMC 16 KOSTYUK, Denys LAM 17 MONDORY, Lloyd ALM 18 GARCIA, Egoitz COF 19 SWIFT, Ben SKY 20 ROLLIN, Dominique FDJ Last man home on Stage 21 175 DOCKER, Mitchell OGE + 3' 39'' Final General Classification 1 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 84h 59' 49'' 2 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 1' 16'' 3 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT + 1' 37'' 4 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 10' 16'' 5 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 11' 29'' 6 GESINK, Robert RAB + 12' 23'' 7 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 13' 28'' 8 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 13' 41'' 9 ANTON, Igor EUS + 14' 01'' 10 INTXAUSTI, Beñat MOV + 16' 13'' Final Points Classification 1 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 199 2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 193 3 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 161 4 DEGENKOLB, John ARG 149 5 BENNATI, Daniele RNT 107 Final Mountains Classification 1 CLARKE, Simon OGE 63 2 DE LA FUENTE, David CJR 40 3 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 36 4 DE GENDT, Thomas VCD 33 5 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 31
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.