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Vuelta a España 2012: Stage 21

Welcome to live coverage of the final stage of the 2012 Vuelta a España, 115km from Cercedilla to Madrid.

83km remaining from 115km

After three tough weeks of racing, it's been a deservedly relaxed beginning to affairs this afternoon, with the 175 survivors of this gruelling Vuelta happy to lay down arms for the early exchanges today. Doubtless this detente will be broken on the finishing circuit in Madrid, but for now, the peloton is content to amble towards the centre of the Spanish capital. The first hour of the stage (one could hardly call it racing just yet) was covered at a leisurely 32kph and the peloton is, of course, still together.

The temperatures are reasonable in the Spanish capital this afternoon too, with the mercury showing a rather pleasant 29 degrees Celsius. After the soaring temperatures that hit the race's opening days in Pamplona and the Basque Country (a sweltering 46 degrees was recorded at one point), the peloton will settle for that.

Alberto Contador stands atop the general classification this morning after hanging on to the red jersey on the slopes of Bola del Mundo yesterday, and the standings will not change this afternoon.

General classification:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 82:14:52
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:16
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:37
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:10:16
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:11:29
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:23
7 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:13:28
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:13:41
9 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:14:01
10 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:16:13
11 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:16:22
12 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:17:50
13 Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team 0:19:14
14 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling 0:19:59
15 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - ISD 0:20:48
16 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan 0:20:50
17 Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:20:56
18 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:22:30
19 Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre - ISD 0:23:38
20 Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:26:30

68km remaining from 115km

The peloton is continuing to amble towards the finishing circuit, and Alberto Contador's Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank teammates have begun to assemble at the front of the bunch.

A nice gesture from the peloton as the race approaches the finish line for the first time - David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Grischa Niermann (Rabobank) are both retiring after today's stage, and the two riders have been allowed to drift off the front of the peloton.

57km remaining from 115km

Niermann and Moncoutie lead through the first intermediate sprint as the peloton passes the finish line for the first time. Ten laps of a 5.7km-long circuit remain in this Vuelta a España.

52km remaining from 115km

On the opening lap of the finishing circuit, a six-man group featuring Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM), Kevin Seeldrayers (Astana), Sergio Carrasco (Andalucia), Javier Chacon (Andalucia), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Francisco Aramendia (Caja Rural) slips off the front, but they are struggling to build any kind of a lead over the peloton.

Movistar's Alejandro Valverde is being shepherded by his teammates towards the front end of the peloton. Valverde is set to finish second overall in this Vuelta in his first appearance since he was belatedly suspended for his implication in Operacion Puerto.

Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, the man at the centre of the blood doping investigation, has been back in the news over the past week following Tyler Hamilton's revelation that CSC manager Bjarne Riis had sent him to see Fuentes in 2002. However, Ivan Basso, another client of Fuentes, refused to implicate Riis when questioned ahead of the Tour of Britain.

Incidentally, Luke Rowe (Sky) has won the opening stage of the Tour of Britain after his leader Mark Cavendish was felled by a crash with a little more than a kilometre to go.

45km remaining from 115km

Back at the Vuelta, meanwhile, Movistar continue to lead the pursuit of the six escapees. The final intermediate sprint of the race comes on the next lap, and Valverde is just 4 points off the green jersey of Joaquim Rodriguez, hence Movistar's interest in the chase.

Incidentally, Rodriguez already lost the green jersey on the final stage twelve months ago, when Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) leapfrogged him with 9th place on the day, and he will doubtless be keen to avoid suffering a similar fate this time around.

39km remaining from 115km

Good news for Joaquim Rodriguez. Sergey Lagutin leads the break over the finish line and they duly hoover up all of the points on offer. Of course, Rodriguez must still be vigilant in the final push to the line and stay in sight of Valverde.

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank have now taken over the pace-setting at the front of the peloton, with Contador safely ensconced in the red jersey in around tenth position. They trail the break by 8 seconds.

34km remaining from 115km

The six leaders are still just in front of the peloton as they sweep through the finish line for the fifth time.

Lagutin accelerates at the front of the break and gets an earful from Astarloza for his trouble when the Basque comes past to do his turn. Astarloza is back in the Vuelta for the first time since 2008, after serving a doping suspension in the intervening period.

Cheng Ji comes to the front of the peloton as the Argos-Shimano team begins to crank into action to set up the finale for their fast man, John Degenkolb. The break remains dangling just in front of the bunch.

The break's lead has fluctuated between ten and fifteen seconds for the past couple of laps, and Argos-Shimano would doubtless be happy to let the six stay out there for a little while longer.

28km remaining from 115km

Kevin Seeldrayers (Astana) leads the break though the finish line for the sixth time and their lead stands at 16 seconds.

Argos-Shimano and Saxo Bank are combining to control affairs at the head of the peloton, and the pace will only continue to rise over the remaining three and a half laps of this Madrid circuit.

Incidentally, Saxo Bank's riders are running red handlebar tape today as a nod to Contador's overall victory.

The break are still hanging out there as they approach the finish line for the 7th time with Francisco Aramendia riding on the front.

17km remaining from 115km

The break's lead is down to 8 seconds as the pace continues to rise in the main field.

Seeldrayers puts in a long, long turn at the front of the break, desperately seeking to maintain its momentum.

11km remaining from 115km

Two laps to go for the break, and they have 20 seconds in hand on a peloton that hasn't yet begun to wind up the pace in earnest.

9km remaining from 115km

Lagutin surges to the front of the break once again, before Aramendia takes over. The gap remains at 20 seconds.

Argos-Shimano are beginning to throw their full weight behind the pursuit now. John Degenkolb has been very dominant in the sprints in this Vuelta and they won't expect much help at this stage.

7km remaining from 115km

The injection of pace from Argos has had the desired effect and they are just 7 seconds down. Sky are also beginning to send riders towards the front in support of Ben Swift.

Sky's men in black are closing in on the six leaders and it looks as though it may all come back together even before the final lap of the finishing circuit.

Lagutin puts in one last, forlorn turn on the front of the break, but even as he does so, Sky are within touching distance.

5km remaining from 115km

Lagutin is nothing if not determined. He jumps away alone and has three seconds in hand as he passes the finish line for the penultimate time.

5km remaining from 115km

Lagutin has been swept up and the peloton is back together for the inevitable bunch finish. Sky continue to dominate the leading positions, albeit with a gaggle of Orica-GreenEdge riders lined up behind them.

3km remaining from 115km

Of course, Degenkolb is lurking with intent, in search of his fifth stage win at this Vuelta.

The Liquigas-Cannondale train is now looking to string things out in support of Elia Viviani. The Italian was close to Degenkolb earlier in the race but all told, he hasn't made the impact he would have liked.

1km remaining from 115km

Liquigas continue to lead on the approach to the final kilometre of racing, but the Argos-Shimano train is moving up on the right-hand side of the road.

Argos-Shimano have muscled into the box seat in the finishing straight and it's all set up for Degenkolb now...

Degenkolb launches the sprint from distance, with Viviani and Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) lined up behind him.

John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) holds on and wins the final stage of the Vuelta in the sprint.

Viviani was closing rapidly but had to settle for second as Degenkolb timed his dive for the line to perfection. Bennati takes third on the stage.

Meanwhile, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) wins the 2012 Vuelta a España, just over a month after returning from suspension for his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.

Result:

1 John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano
2 Elia Viviani (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
3 Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
4 Allan Davis (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
5 Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Garmin - Sharp
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
7 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
8 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
9 Raymond Kreder (Ned) Garmin - Sharp
10 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi

Final general classification:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 84:59:49
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:16
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:37
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:10:16
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:11:29
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:23
7 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:13:28
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:13:41
9 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:14:01
10 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:16:13

That 6th place on the stage for Alejandro Valverde should be enough to see him squeeze ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez in the points classification, and in the combined classification to boot. Deja vu all over again for Rodriguez.

Thanks for joining us on Cyclingnews for our live coverage of this year's Vuelta a España. A full report, results and pictures from today's stage will follow here and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the reaction from Madrid to Contador's final overall victory.

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