Italy’s Fabio Aru sealed his first ever Grand Tour victory as Germany’s John Degenkolb finally claimed a stage win on the final day of Spain’s Vuelta on Sunday.
Aru just needed to get through the 98.8km parade through the streets of Madrid unscathed after building up a 1min 17sec lead over Joaquim Rodriguez on Saturday’s penultimate stage.
Rodriguez finished second to record his third podium finish in the Vuelta, but a puncture midway through the stage saw him lose out on the green points jersey to Spanish compatriot Alejandro Valverde.
Poland’s Rafal Majka finished third ahead of last year’s Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana in fourth.
“It is a dream, I am very emotional and proud,” Aru told Eurosport.
“I’d like to thank my teammates. They believed in what was possible and I dedicate this victory to them, my family and my children.”
Aru trailed Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin by six seconds going into the penultimate stage.
But, with the aid of his Astana teammates, Aru finally broke the Dutch rider’s resistance on the final two category one climbs of the race as Dumoulin slipped down to sixth.
“Yesterday was the most important moment,” added Aru.
“It was really emotional, we did an amazing job as a team”
Dumoulin’s Giant-Alpecin teammate Degenkolb won four stages at last year’s Vuelta, but had been frustrated in the few stages suited to the sprinters.
However, despite his efforts in helping Dumoulin over the past three weeks, he had enough in the tank to sprint to the line ahead of Dutch rider Danny van Poppel and Luxembourg’s Jean-Pierre Drucker.
“It really means a lot,” said Degenkolb.
“For the whole team we had a big disappointment yesterday. The whole world saw that we were trying to defend this jersey and make it a superb success for the team.
“It is like going to zero to 100 emotionally and now we can go home with a positive feeling.
“We still had an awesome Vuelta to finish sixth in the general classification and winning three stages. For us it is a great Vuelta.”
Dumoulin also admitted that Degenkolb’s win softened the blow of his personal disappointment.
“He worked so hard for me in the last three weeks and he made efforts that maybe other sprinters wouldn’t do,” he said.
“I am really happy that he won and that we helped him today. I cannot be unhappy today it is a really nice end of the Vuelta.”
Majka was another young rider to impress as he made the most of his opportunity to lead Tinkoff-Saxo in the absence of last year’s Vuelta winner Alberto Contador.
“After the Tour de France it is not easy to be the leader but I had the opportunity and I took it.
“I hope to keep improving. First we have Alberto Contador, I need to still learn and maybe for the future continue to get better.”
Results from the 21st and final stage of Spain’s Vuelta, a 98.8 kilometre ride from Alcala de Henares to Madrid on Sunday:
1. John Degenkolb (GER/GIA) 2hr 34min 13sec, 2. Danny van Poppel (NED/TRE) at 0:00sec, 3. Jempy Drücker (LUX/BMC) 0:00, 4. Daryl Impey (RSA/ORI) 0:00, 5. Tosh Van der Sande (BEL/LOT) 0:00, 6. Maximiliano Richeze (ARG/LAM) 0:00, 7. Nikolas Maes (BEL/ETI) 0:00., 8. Kristian Sbaragli (ITA/MTN) 0:00, 9. Kévin Reza (FRA/FDJ) 0:00, 10. Tom Van Asbroeck (BEL/LNL) 0:00, 11. Leonardo Duque (COL/COL) 0:00, 12. José Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) 0:00, 13. Daniele Bennati (ITA/TIN) 0:00, 14. Julien Simon (FRA/COF) 0:00, 15. Vicente Reynes (ESP/IAM) 0:00, 16. Gediminas Bagdonas (LTU/ALM) 0:00, 17. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 0:00, 18. Mickaël Delage (FRA/FDJ) 0:00, 19. Imanol Erviti (ESP/MOV) 0:00, 20. Fabrice Jeandesboz (FRA/EUC) 0:00.
24. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 0:00, 34. Joaquim Rodríguez (ESP/KAT) 0:00, 67. Tom Dumoulin (NED/GIA) 0:20, 71. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 0:20.
1. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 85hr 36min 13sec – winner, 2. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) at 0:57, 3. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) 1:09, 4. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 1:42, 5. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 3:10, 6. Tom Dumoulin (NED/GIA) 3:46, 7. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 6:47, 8. Mikel Nieve (ESP/SKY) 7:06, 9. Daniel Moreno (ESP/KAT) 7:12, 10. Louis Meintjies (RSA/MTN) 10:26, 11. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/ALM) 11:10, 12. David Arroyo (ESP/CJR) 13:29, 13. Gianluca Brambilla (ITA/ETI) 15:26, 14. Bart De Clercq (BEL/LOT) 16:34, 15. Romain Sicard (FRA/EUC) 16:46, 16. Kenny Elissonde (FRA/FDJ) 17:07, 17. Fabrice Jeandesboz (FRA/EUC) 17:10, 18. André Cardoso (POR/CAN) 23:31, 19. Giovanni Visconti (ITA/MOV) 36:19, 20. Diego Rosa (ITA/AST) 43:27
– Agence France-Presse