Sagan had started the Vuelta's final stage hoping that he would repeat one of his earliest Grand Tour bunch-sprint victories. Back in 2011, in Madrid, he had taken his third stage win at what was first Vuelta, winning ahead of Italians Daniele Bennati and Alessandro Petacchi.
But seven years later, Italy's top sprinter, Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), managed to best Sagan conclusively, roaring up the left-hand side of the Paseo de la Castellana in central Madrid to cross the line clearly ahead of the Slovakian.
"As expected, the Vuelta ended with a fast bunch sprint in Madrid. I tried my best but it wasn't enough to win the stage. Congratulations to Elia for his victory," Sagan said in a brief comment on the Bora-Hansgrohe website. His last Vuelta stage win, therefore, remains in Malaga back in 2015, shortly before he had to quit after colliding with a race motorbike, before going on to win the first of three world-championship titles.
Sagan finished this year's Vuelta a España with four second places, two thirds and second place in the points classification – the latter behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). His consistency bodes well for the coming weeks, although it remains to be seen how he will fare on Innsbruck's tough course at this year's world championships.
While Sagan can leave the Spanish Grand Tour seeing the glass both half-full and half-empty, his Bora-Hansgrohe team collectively left the race not overly satisfied with their performance.
"We finish this edition of the Vuelta having achieved less than we'd hoped for," said team manager Ralph Denk on the team's website. "We came to Spain aiming at a top-10 position on the GC and at least a stage win. We came close to those goals, but we didn't reach them, so we can't be really happy."
Bora-Hansgrohe's GC contender, Emanuel Buchmann, finished the Vuelta in 12th place overall, whilst specialist climber Rafal Majka came closest to a stage win at the finish in Camperona on stage 13, but was overhauled before the line by Euskadi-Murias racer Oscar Rodriguez.
Sagan, meanwhile, hit the bar four times, but could not quite clinch a victory. His last victory remains at this year's Tour de France, where he won three stages, led the race for a day, and, for a record-equalling sixth time, won the points classification.