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Vuelta a España 2011: Stage 21

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Things come to an end today in Madrid, with race leader Juan Jose Cobo holding on to a narrow 13 second lead.  The sprinters will go for it again in the Spanish capital as we wrap up the last stage of the year's last grand tour.

Welcome back to the end of the 2012 Vuelta!  There are only 95.6 kilometers on tap today, and we expect things to end with a mass sprint.  There is also a battle for the points jersey to keep an eye on.

The race has started and as to be expected on this stage, the peloton is all together.

After a train transfer to Madrid, the final stage starts at the Jarama motor-racing circuit to the north of the Spanish capital. The stage will start slow, with the usual celebratory pictures of the red jersey winner with a glass of a champers, but the speed will pick up rapidly once the riders reach Madrid for the first of 10 laps of the finishing circuit that includes the Paseo de la Castellana, the Gran Vía and the Paseo del Prado. As is now the tradition, the finish line is in the Plaza Cibeles, where the sprinters won’t let anyone deny them their final fling.
 

The Jarama motor-racing circuit made a brief cameo in what is widely regarded as the best Vuelta of all time. The 1974 edition pitched José Manuel Fuente, the winner two years previously, against 1970 champion Luis Ocaña, who had taken the Tour title in 1973. The pair were supposed to be preparing for targets further into the season, but neither man held back. Fuente’s Kas team won the 4km TTT and second place in the 5km mountain TT two days later moved him into a narrow lead. In the final day’s San Sebastián time trial, Fuente hung on to win by just 11 seconds.


Here are our Top Ten in GC coming into this final stage:

1     Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC     82:38:32      
2     Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling     0:00:13      
3     Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling     0:01:39      
4     Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team     0:02:03      
5     Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC     0:03:48      
6     Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek     0:04:13      
7     Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale     0:04:31      
8     Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto     0:04:45      
9     Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team     0:05:20      
10     Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi     0:05:33      
 

The top five for the points jersey:

1     Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team     115      pts
2     Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team     115      
3     Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC     92      
4     Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling     88      
5     Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard Trek     81    
 

David Moncoutie has wrapped up the mountains jersey, for the fourth consecutive year:

1     David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne     63      pts
2     Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale     56      
3     Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC     42      
4     Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo     33      
5     Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team     32    

Cobo has wrapped up the combination classification.

1     Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC     7      pts
2     Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling     14      
3     Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team     18      
4     Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team     20      
5     Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo     26      

 

The team classification goes to Geox-TMC, by a good margin.

1     Geox-TMC     247:29:31      
2     Leopard Trek     0:10:19      
3     Euskaltel-Euskadi     0:16:23      
4     Katusha Team     0:43:18      
5     AG2R La Mondiale     0:43:27

We all know that Cobo is the fastest in this race.  Do you know who is the slowest?  Tom Veelers of Skil-Shimano, at 5:24.52.
 

Nicolas Roche of AG2R will finish 15th overall, but wanted to be higher, in the top ten.  So “I can't say it's great,” he told Cyclingnews. The first part of the race was hard, but he feels now he is coming into form again.

Chris Froome thought he could pick up four seconds at the last intermediate sprint of the day on Saturday.  Unfortunately, what he sprinted under was the 20km marker, and not the sprint.  Fortunately the Sky rider was able to laugh off his mistake.

Don't worry, nothing is happening in the race....

Daniele Bennati finally took the sprint win on Saturday, much to his relief.  He dedicated his win to his Leopard Trek teammates, noting that “we've been going through challenging times lately.”

Team Sky has said it won't attack today, but leader Juan Jose Cobo of Geox is still nervous.  He leads by only 13 seconds, and knows that he doesn't yet really have the win wrapped up.  “I've got to suffer for another day,” he said.

71km remaining from 94km

The peloton has now reached the city of Madrid.  Perhaps some action will start shortly?

David Moncoutie (Cofidis) is the King of the Spanish Mountains for the fourth year in a row.  And he'd like to make it five years in a row next year.

Let's take a look back at the stages of this race.  It all started out three weeks ago yesterday, with Leopard Trek racing to a surprise win in the opening team time trial, and Jakob Fuglsang being the first race leader.

Stage two saw Chris Sutton of Team Sky take a “disorganized” sprint ahead of all the big names.  The red jersey went from Fuglsang to Leopard Trek teammate Daniele Bennati.

For stage three, Pablo Lastras (Movistar) topped a 12 km long solo flight for his third career Vuelta  stage win.  He also moved into the GC lead.

We have our first break attempt!  Six riders have built up a tiny lead.

Stage four was the first mountaintop finish, and Daniel Moreno of Katusha took the honours.  Sylvain Chavanel of Quickstep slipped into the leader's jersey.

Joaquim Rodriguez won stage five, his first of two this year.  It was classified as a medium mountain stage, but turned out to be a tough one.

Liquigas dominated the finish on stage six, with Peter Sagan winning and teammates filling places three to five.   Unfortunately Vincenzo Nibali was number five and missed out on the bonus seconds which might have allowed him to take the lead away from Chavanel.

61km remaining from 94km

Good big crowds out today in Madrid!

The six are caught, and now one rider takes off.

Hm, let's say it is all very liquid at the moment.  There is a group 11 seconds ahead of the peloton.  Everythng is still unsettled.

Stage seven saw German sprinter Marcel Kittel of  Skil-Shimano take his first grand tour stage win.  There was a large crash behind him but he had things wrapped up anyway.

“Purito” Rodriguez took his second win on the eighth stage and moved into the red jersey he so desperately wanted to take home. He showed his excellent climbing form on the torturous closing climb up to San Lorenzo del Escorial.

Irishman Dan Martin of Garmin-Cervelo took the mountaintop finish at La Covatilla, his first grand tour stage win. Bauke Mollema of Rabobank finished second to take over the red jersey.
 

We have three riders in the lead:  Caruso, Benitez and Kohler.

Oops, not Kohler but Horrach.

That is, of course, Damiano Caruso (Liquigas), Jose Benitez (Andalucia-Caja Granada) and Joan Horrach (Katusha).

The group has a lead of 17 seconds over a chase group, with the peloton another 23 seconds behind them, for a total of 40 seconds.

Martin won again in the next stage, but this time it was Tony Martin of HTC-Highroad.  He smashed the time trial, winning by nearly a full minute.  Chris Froome of Sky pulled off a surprised with second-place and took over the race lead.

The first rest day of the race came at this time, and was followed by an eleventh stage in which Bradley Wiggins kept the leader's jersey in Team Sky.  Cofidis' David Moncoutie stormed his way into the mountain jersey with an impressive solo win.

Sagan went for two in stage twelve, winning against some of the top sprinters in the field.

50km remaining from 94km

50 kilometers left to go!

An escape group stayed away until the end of stage thirteen – at least, two of the original 20 did, with Michael Albasini of HTC taking the win.

Rein Taaramae of Cofidis repeated that scenario the next day, winning atop La Farrapona. Defending champion Nibali saw his chances for a repeat go down the drain as he dropped from second to seventh place.

The fifteenth stage saw Cobo take not only the stage but also the red jersey. He fought his way up the incredibly difficult Angliru, and at the end of the day, he was first, Froome second and Wiggins third – a line-up which has stayed that way ever since.

The first stage of the Tour of Britain is over and the winner is..... click me!

We have had our first intermediate sprint, and the points went to the three leaders, of course, in this order: Horrach, Benitez, Caruso.

So no points for either Rodriguez or Mollema, and no effect on the points jersey.

47 seconds now for the three leaders.

Lampre is leading the chase.

A roundabout shortly before the finish line caused great confusion on stage 16, and Juan Jose Haedo of Saxo Bank-SunGard chose the right line to take the win.

Froome managed to out-climb Cobo on stage 17, as the two delivered an exciting man-to-man fight on the way up to Pena Cabarga. It wasn't enough to claim the lead, though.

The remnants of another large escape group made it as first to the finish on stage eighteen. Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) won a two-man sprint for the stage win.

The Vuelta moved into the Basque Country for the nineteenth stage, and who else but Igor Anton of Euskaltel-Euskadi took the win in a solo effort. Froome did his best to move ahead of Cobo, but was again unable to do so.

Saturday's stage 20 saw Leopard Trek's Bennati winning the mass sprint, as Cobo and Geox again fended off the attempts by Froome and Sky to take over the lead.

39km remaining from 94km

51 seconds now, with Saxo Bank leading the chase.

Javier Guillén, general director of the Vuelta: “It’s been an intense and explosive Vuelta. The course has produced the spectacle we expected. The Vuelta has become a major event in Spain. The change of dates – one week earlier – has been beneficial in terms of attendance. The crowd has been great. We’ll work on this for the future. We’ll launch the 2012 Vuelta at the end of this year or early next year, we haven’t set a date yet.”
 

The three escapees continue to lead the way around the Madrid circuit course.  Soon enough the sprinters' teams will get serious about the chase.

Juan José Cobo showed up at the start with a red Fuji bike on which a few buffalos were painted as reference to his nickname: El Bisonte de La Pesa.

31km remaining from 94km

31 km left to go, and still a gap of about 46 seconds.

The winner of a bike race is theorically the rider who clocks the shortest time. Chris Froome rode the Vuelta 19 seconds faster than Juan José Cobo. “It would be great if it was as simple as that”, said the runner up who gained 32 seconds bonus less than the race leader prior to the last stage.

“Time bonus is there for a race to be more exciting but it doesn’t play in my favour this time around. I can only say that I don’t really agree that so much time bonus is given at top mountain finishes, but we all know the rules prior to racing and we have to race accordingly. I’m not here to complain about the rules. There’s still a possibility for me to win. We’ll keep going all the way through. We’ll keep the pressure on Cobo until the very end. In our team, CJ Sutton is ready for the final sprint. We’ll try to get him in that position.”
 

 

25km and still 40-some-odd seconds.  The final intermediate sprint is coming up, and again, Rodriguez and Mollema will come up empty-handed.

Oh, let's make that a gap of 57 seconds now!

The sprint points go to Horrach, Caruso and Benitez, in that order.

And the gap is back to 48 seconds.

20m left now -- about time for the chasers to get serious.

And indeed, the gap is down to 37 seconds now.

Vicente Reynes, second to Sutton on stage 2, said: “There aren’t many sprinters left: Petacchi, myself, Sagan and Degenkolb. It’s always nice to win the last stage in Madrid.”

The three leaders have crossed the finish line again, and the field is only 26 seconds back.

Benitez tries to get away from his two companions. Needless to say, they don't like that idea and quickly catch him.

Jurgen van den Broeck: “I’m very satisfied to finish the Vuelta. I needed to complete a 3-week race for 2012. I had two bad days at La Covatilla and the Angliru, so I’m happy to finish 8th.”

Now Horrach tries his luck by attacking.

It looks like the other two have been overtaken by the peloton, and Horrach has only a handful of seconds for a gap.

And Horrach is now caught, too.

Mario Scirea, DS of Liquigas: “Nibali 7th, it’s normal because he kept declining every day since stage 10. Now we have to find the reasons for this failure. He probably doesn’t have recovered from a too hard Giro. In 2012, a choice will be needed. Our satisfaction of the Vuelta is Peter Sagan. He’s
young. We don’t know his limits. He won 2 stages and he’s got a good opportunity to make it three in Madrid.”

Lampre and Leopard continue to put a bilstering pace at the front of the field.

Now a BMC rider has moved to the front of things.

Saxo Bank wants to set up another win for Haedo...

The field is now on its last lap of the circuit course.

4km remaining from 94km

Saxo Bank still leading the way for the last 4km

Leopard in the lead now.

O'Grady is leading the way for his teammate Bennati again, just like yesterday.

O'grady looks around for Bennati.  Liquigas is also up at the front.

Two km and this year's Vuelta will be over!

Lampre wants to set things up for Petacchi, too.

The sprinters are at the head of things and all look at one another.....

Bennati, Petacchi, Sagan, Degenkolb....

It is apparently Sagan who takes it, a very close decision!

Petacchi and Bennati second and third, in some order.

The big winner, of course, is Juan Jose Cobo of Geox, who raises his fist and smiles as he crosses the finish line, as the winner of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana!

It looks like Mollema has taken the green jersey.  The Rabo rider finished ninth on the stage, and thus gets a point.  That ought to put him ahead of Rodriguez.

Mollema will get in fact seven points for finishing ninth.

The top ten on the stage:

1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
2 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard Trek
3 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
4 John Degenkolb (Ger) HTC-Highroad
5 Nikolas Maes (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team
6 Pim Ligthart (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
7 Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Procycling
8 Koen De Kort (Ned) Skil - Shimano
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
10 Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto

And the final top ten in GC:

Final general classification 
 
1 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling  0:00:13
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling  0:01:39
4 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team  0:02:03
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC  0:03:48
6 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek  0:04:13
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  0:04:31
8 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto  0:04:45
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team  0:05:20
10 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi  0:05:33

Congratulations to Cobo for his overall win, to Sagan for his third stage win here, and to all the riders who made it all the way to Madrid!

The grand tours of 2011 are over!  We will of course be back with live reports for the World Championships, so join us again at that time.  And thanks for reading with us!

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