Dane Matti Breschel of Team CSC-Saxo Bank topped a rough sprint in Madrid to close out the 63rd Vuelta a España. Breschel finished ahead of Alexandre Usov of Team AG2R La Mondiale and Davide Viganò of Team Quick Step.
"I was extremely focused on starting the sprint at the exact right time, and I did," Breschel said. "I didn't have any doubts that I had to open up early and I managed to take advantage of the fact that no one else seemed to have the same idea."
It was the fifth win of the season for Breschel, who battled back from an early-season knee injury, and one which made up for a disappointing second place in the Vuelta's 17th stage. His form appears to be coming good just in time for next week's World Championships in Italy.
"I've worked really hard to get in the shape I'm in right now and I'm unbelievable happy to get such a fantastic result here. It's been a tough Vuelta but I feel I've come out on the other side strong and my result today confirms that I'm in great shape ahead of the World Championships next week. It's one of those victories that really matter. Now I'll do everything I can to maintain focus and use the fact that both my form and my confidence are at the very top," said Breschel.
Spaniard Alberto Contador of Team Astana finished safely in the peloton to put his name on a short list of riders who have won all three Grand Tours. Contador topped the classification after three weeks of racing by 46 seconds over teammate Levi Leipheimer and 4:12 over Carlos Sastre of Team CSC-Saxo Bank to take his third Grand Tour to win after the Tour de France in 2007 and the Giro d'Italia this May.
"In the last hour there is still a chance of a crash," said Contador. "I am very content, also for all the fans and for all of Spain. The last few days the fans were really cheering. There was some tension for me but now life is good..."
Contador joined Belgian Eddy Merckx, Italian Felice Gimondi and Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil as the only riders to ever win all three Grand Tours. The young rider from Madrid quickly accomplished the feat; 14 months from his win on the streets of Paris in 2007 to the Paseo del Prado of Madrid today.
He took the leader's maillot oro with a dominant ride in the Asturias mountain stages. The gold top became his after his win on top of the feared climb of Alto de l'Angliru and he solidified his lead with victory on the Puerto de San Isidro 24 hours later.
Contador took his win with the help a very strong Team Astana. The squad took a one-two finish in the penultimate stage, the Alto de Navacerrada time trial, with Levi Leipheimer ahead of Contador. Leipheimer also enjoyed a spell of his own in the maillot oro and the stage win in Ciudad Real.
How it unfolded
The grand city of Madrid hosted the final day of the Spanish tour. The riders left from the San Sebastián de Los Reyes Exhibition Centre to start their run into Spain's capital.
Guided by maillot oro Contador, 131 riders of the original 170 rolled out to start the 102.2-kilometre stage at 14:57. The Astana team guided Contador, the red mountain's jersey of David Moncoutié (Cofidis) and the blue points jersey of Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) away from the start village. The white combination jersey also belongs to Contador, but Leipheimer wore it though the stage as runner up in the competition.
Astana appropriately led the race into the streets of Madrid. Shortly after the race crossed the finish line for the first of eight times, the first break of the day materialised. Manuel Ortega (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia) darted off and stayed clear for nearly a kilometre and then where shut down by Liquigas.
Liquigas's Valerio Agnoli made it off the front with another Andalucía rider, Jesús Rosendo, and Emanuele Bindi (Lampre). Rosendo featured in stage two's escape and Agnoli featured in the wrong way in stage eight where he crashed twice. The three gained near a half-minute on the Astana- and Cofidis-led group.
The trio held its 30 seconds with 25 kilometres left to race, but the peloton seemed to be just playing with the three. The sprinters' teams always had them in their grasp.
CSC-Saxo Bank marked the chase with 15 kilometres left to race. It brought the gap down to 15 seconds and paved the way for its sprint gun, Breschel. In search of his first professional win, Rosendo felt the Danish heat and he jumped clear with Agnoli in tow. Before the start of the final six-kilometre Madrid circuit the sprinters' workers captured the two remaining escapees.
Cofidis returned to the front and Koldo Fernández's Euskaltel-Euskadi's boys led for a brief moment. CSC's Breschel was able to fend off Crédit Agricole's men and a round of crashes to give his team its first stage win in the 2008 Vuelta. He joined teammate Sastre in the final podium celebrations in Madrid.
Alexandre Usov added to his third place finish in stage 17 and Davide Viganò emerged as Quick Step's sprinter of the day. Italy's Viganò, 24, finished 10th in the Madrid sprint two years ago.
Belgium's Van Avermaet made it though the rough closing metres to finish fifth and claim the overall points classification. His teammate, Olivier Kaisen, appeared worst off of the crash that involved around five riders in the finale 3km.
Van Avermaet's blue jersey of points leader and stage nine win added to a victorious season that started with a win in the Tour of Belgium in late May. He will represent his country in next weeks World Championships and is a dark horse for the rainbow bands.