Live coverage of stage 21 of the Vuelta a Espana, 97.8 kilometres from Alcala de Henares to Madrid.
For long stretches during the third week of this Vuelta a Espana, it seemed as though the fight for the red jersey might come down to the final metres on Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles, such were the tight margins separating Fabio Aru (Astana) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) at the top of the general classification. Instead, after Astana’s collective forcing yesterday finally broke Dumoulin’s resistance, Aru can enjoy a promenade in the Spanish capital this afternoon before he officially joins the elite club of Grand Tour winners.
The general classification looks like this after yesterday's dramatic afternoon in the Sierras of Madrid.
1 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 83:01:40
2 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:17
3 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:01:29
4 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team 0:02:02
5 Jhoan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica GreenEdge 0:03:30
6 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:03:46
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:07:10
8 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Team Sky 0:07:26
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:07:32
10 Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka 0:10:46
90km remaining from 98km
The 158 survivors of this arduous Vuelta have, as per tradition, set out at a gentle pace from the start in Alcala de Henares. The intensity will start to rise, of course, once they reach the finishing circuit in Madrid with 58 kilometres remaining. 10 laps of a 5.8km finishing circuit follow, and the few remaining sprinters will be eager to ensure a bunch finish.
Fabio Aru is rarely the most effusive at starts and finishes during a Grand Tour, but with his three weeks' work essentially completed last night, he spoke at much greater length about his Vuelta a Espana victory in his winner's press conference. The full transcript is here.
84km remaining from 98km
Out on the road, Aru obliges the photographers by riding on the front of the peloton flanked by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo). They will stand alongside him forever more in the pictures from this evening's podium ceremony, too, but they will tell only part of the tale - the story of this Vuelta was the gripping duel between Aru and the unfortunate Tom Dumoulin.
As Aru was feted on the podium yesterday evening, Dumoulin was left to compose his thoughts in the passenger seat of a team car while a scrum of television cameras and reporters gathered around him. Despite his disappointment, the Dutchman managed to put words on his emotions at the end of a brutal day. Alasdair Fotheringham has the full story here.
79km remaining from 98km
While the general classification is wrapped up, and Omar Fraile (Caja Rural) will claim the mountains jersey, there is still scope for change in the points classification. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) wears green into Madrid but Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is just two points behind. One of the ongoing soap operas of Spanish cycling might have another installment this evening.
The final stage of the Vuelta a Espana is not the only racing in Madrid this afternoon. The inaugural edition of La Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta ended in a sprint finish and Shelley Olds (Alé-Cipollini-Galassia) showcased her pre-Worlds form by claiming victory ahead of Giorgia Bronzini and Kirsten Wild.
71km remaining from 98km
The peloton continues to trundle along at a gentle clip in the early evening sunshine on the outskirts of Madrid. For Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), this Vuelta marks an important step in his development as he claims his first podium finish in a Grand Tour, and
after he moved up on yesterday's gripping penultimate stage.
Tom Dumoulin is wearing the white jersey of combined classification leader this afternoon, but only because the leader Joaquim Rodriguez and second-placed Fabio Aru already have leader's jerseys of their own. The Dutchman manages a smile and a wave for the television cameras despite his disappointment yesterday afternoon.
67km remaining from 98km
The average speed for the first hour is a typically sedate 26.6kph, as the peloton ambles towards Madrid.
The peloton is in the streets of Madrid with the Astana team of Fabio Aru lined up at the front, though a grounded television helicopter means that there are no live television pictures to capture the moment.
58km remaining from 98km
The fixed television cameras in the finishing straight show us Astana leading the bunch through for the first time.
The next time around, the bunch will face the day's lone intermediate sprint, which could well be the scene of frissons between Valverde and Rodriguez. The pace remains steady for now.
Away from the Vuelta a Espana, there was drama on the final stage of the Tour of Britain. Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) sealed overall victory, but though Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) was first across the line, he was relegated for deviating from his line from the sprint and the stage win was awarded to Elia Viviani (Sky).
There's been an infusion of speed at the Vuelta, meanwhile, as Movistar start to wind things up for Valverde ahead of the intermediate sprint.
45km remaining from 98km
Valverde wins the sprint ahead of two Movistar teammates and he is set to divest Joaquim Rodriguez of the green jersey unless the Katusha man conjures up something unexpected on the final lap. Valverde is provisionally two points clear of Rodriguez in the standings.
43km remaining from 98km
Immediately after the sprint, our first break of the day forms, with king of the mountains Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) leading a small delegation off the front. Giant-Alpecin lead the peloton and they'll be looking to control matters for John Degenkolb.
It appears that Joaquim Rodriguez had a mechanical problem before that intermediate sprint. The Catalan is being paced back up to the peloton by a platoon of his Katusha teammates.
The six riders dangling off the front of the peloton are Benjamin King (Cannondale-Garmin), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Laurent Pichon (FDJ), Carlos Verona (Etixx-Quick Step) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar). Giant-Alpecin will be happy to leave them linger out there with a shade under eight laps still to race.
40km remaining from 98km
The six leaders are about 30 seconds ahead of a peloton where Giant-Alpecin and Trek Factory Racing seem most interested in setting up a sprint finish.
35km remaining from 98km
The six escapees pass through the finish line with six laps remaining and a lead of around 25 seconds over the bunch, which is being led by Lampre, Giant and Trek. Our live television shots are still limited to the fixed cameras in the finishing straight, making it difficult to assess who is performing the bulk of the pace-making duties in the peloton.
The leading sextet have never been truly out of sight of the peloton, and it's difficult to see how this stage can finish in anything other than a bunch sprint, given that Giant and Trek, in particular, have so committed to the chase.
29km remaining from 98km
Five laps to go for the break, which has just over 20 seconds in hand on the Trek-led peloton. Carlos Verona appears to be struggling at the rear of the break and risks losing contact.
Verona is safely back on board by the time as the escapees come around to the finish area once again. The bunch remains 20 seconds or so behind.
23km remaining from 98km
Giant-Alpecin leads the bunch through the finish line with four laps remaining. 17 seconds the gap.
Fabio Duarte (Colombia) made an ambitious solo attempt to bridge to the breakaway during the lap just past, but his efforts have come to nothing as he is swept up by the bunch.
Ben King puts in a long, long turn on the front of the break as dusk begins to fall slowly over Madrid. Lampre-Merida have taken up the reins in the peloton, and there is an inevitability about the escapees' fate.
17km remaining from 98km
The speed is steadily ratcheting upwards in the peloton as the laps tick down. There are just three remaining, the break is now being pursued by a determined delegation from BMC.
Giant-Alpecin, Trek and BMC share the load at the front of the peloton, and their combined efforts have pegged the break's lead back to 12 seconds.
12km remaining from 98km
With a little over two laps remaining, Ben King comes through with such force that he almost moves clear of his fellow escapees.
10km remaining from 98km
The break is stretched now, rather lacking in cohesion, and it is only a matter of time before they are reeled in by the chasing peloton.
8km remaining from 98km
The break is duly swept up, and immediately afterwards Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) tries to repeat his exploit from the final day of the Giro d'Italia by jumping off the front.
7km remaining from 98km
The Katusha team of Joaquim Rodriguez leads the peloton's pursuit of Keisse as they approach the bell.
5km remaining from 98km
The bunch takes the bell with Keisse dangling just ahead of them.
Keisse is joined off the front by Alexis Gougeard, but they'll struggle to hold off the bunch at this rate.
4km remaining from 98km
Keisse drops back and Gougeard presses on alone, but he won't last long.
3km remaining from 98km
Gougeard is swept up and Christian Knees (Sky) shoots out of the bunch, but his move is quickly brought to heel.
3km remaining from 98km
MTN, Trek and Giant are prominent as the Vuelta enters its final three kilometres.
A delegation from Orica-GreenEdge moves to the front for Daryl Impey, while the sprinters scramble to organise themselves behind.
2km remaining from 98km
The peloton is stung into a long, long line as they enter the final two kilometres.
1km remaining from 98km
Giant-Alpecin take over in support of John Degenkolb.
GIant lead it out for Degenkolb...
Degenkolb goes early...
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) wins the final stage of the Vuelta a Espana.
Fabio Aru (Astana) finishes safely in the peloton to seal final overall victory. He crosses the line accompanied by a platoon of Astana teammates, their arms raised.
Degenkolb won that sprint quite comfortably in the end, beating Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC) and Danny van Poppel (Trek) to the line.
It seemed initially as though Degenkolb had gone too soon, but he kicked again when van Poppel came back at him to claim his first stage win of this Vuelta - a very timely reminder of his credentials ahead of the World Championships in Richmond two weeks from today.
1 John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin 02:34:13
2 Danny van Poppel (Ned) Trek Factory Racing
3 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Bel) BMC Racing Team
4 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge
5 Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal
6 Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg) Lampre-Merida
7 Nikolas Maes (Bel) Etixx-QuickStep
8 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) MTN-Qhubeka
9 Kevin Reza (Fra) FDJ
10 Tom Van Asbroeck (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
Final general classification:
1 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 85:36:13
2 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha 00:00:57
3 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 00:01:09
4 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar 00:01:42
5 Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEdge 00:03:10
6 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Alpecin 00:03:46
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar 00:06:47
8 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky 00:07:06
9 Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha 00:07:12
10 Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka 00:10:26
Thanks for joining our live coverage on Cyclingnews throughout this Vuelta a Espana. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, and as ever Alasair Fotheringham will have all the news and reaction from Madrid.
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