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Ending the Vuelta on a high note for a Giant-Alpecin team disappointed at the last-minute dethroning of Tom Dumoulin in the general classification battle, John Degenkolb sprinted to victory in Madrid on Sunday evening.
The German rider picked up his first victory since stage five of the Bayern Rundfahrt in May, going from a long way out and holding off the other sprinters who tried to get past him.
Daryl Impey (Orica GreenEdge) was on his wheel and battled to overtake, but the South African rider was himself passed by Danny Van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) and Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC Racing Team), finishing fourth.
“Now we can go home with a positive feeling,” Degenkolb told Eurosport. “We still made an awesome Vuelta, finishing sixth, going close to winning and taking some stages as well. It was great.”
Although Dumoulin was understandably shell-shocked after losing the red jersey on Saturday’s final mountain stage, Degenkolb pointed out that the overall balance for the squad was extremely positive.
“It is really nice to see that the riders on the team are really improving and getting better and better every year. A rider like Tom really has the ability to not only show that one time in his life, he really has opportunities in the future to one day stand on top of the podium.
“I am really happy about the progress we have made in the team. It will be so great to celebrate tonight. Tom is of course very disappointed, everyone can understand this, but we will have some glasses of wine or beer with him and make him happy.”
Race leader Fabio Aru (Astana) finished in the main bunch and sealed his overall victory over Joaquim Rodríguez (Team Katusha) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff – Saxo). They were 57 seconds and one minute nine seconds back respectively, with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) and Dumoulin filling the other places in the top six.
“It’s a very emotional day and I’m very proud,” said Aru, who was second overall in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. “I’d like to thank my team-mates for supporting me and believing in me.
“I dedicate this win to them and my family. It really was an emotional Vuelta and we did such an amazing job.”
Degenkolb now looks towards the world road race championship, seeking to add that title to season results which already include Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix.
“It is of course a relief,” he said, talking about the confidence his Vuelta stage victory brings. “It is a long time since I won my last race. That gives me motivation.
“I am really motivated for the worlds and I am trying to get a lot of rest now and recovery. I am flying to America already on Wednesday and I will make my last preparation on the circuit there.
“I love long one day races and I think I will be 100 focussed in two weeks.”
How it played out:
The final stage in Madrid followed the new women’s event, the La Madrid Challenge. Shelly Olds (Alé Cipollini) triumphed there ahead of Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda) and Kirsten Wild (Hitec Product), with Roxane Fournier (Poitou-Charentes.Futuroscope 86) and Lucy Garner (Team Liv-Plantur) just off the top three places.
The men’s event was run over 97.8 kilometers of flat road. It began in Alcalá de Henares and travelled to Madrid, reaching the finish line for the first time after 39.8 kilometres and beginning a ten laps of a 5.8 kilometre circuit.
The second crossing of the finish line acted as the location for the intermediate sprint and there Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) jumped away to take maximum points.
His team-mates JJ Rojas and Francisco Ventoso scooped second and third, preventing the points leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) from limiting the losses.
As a result Valverde won the contest by two points.
That was followed by a six man move comprising another Movistar rider, Giovanni Visconti, plus Laurent Pichon (FDJ), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Carlos Verona (Etixx-Quick Step) and Ben King (Cannondale-Garmin).
Their gains were limited to half a minute and they were hauled back one lap from the finish, as were subsequent attacks by Iljo Keisse (Etixx – Quick-Step) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
Giant-Alpecin swept through for Degenkolb, although it appeared that their chance might be lost when he opened up his sprint a long way from the line.
He was strong enough to hold on, though, beating Danny van Poppel (Trek) and Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC Racing team) and notching up the team’s third stage win of the race.
Dumoulin was given an award for the most aggressive rider, Valverde lifted the trophy for the points classification and Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) was best climber.
Rodriguez was top in the combined classification and Movistar finished over 29 minutes clear of nearest rivals Sky in the team ranking.
Results to follow…