Finally, after six attempts, Chris Froome got to stand on the top step of the podium in Madrid to add overall victory in the Vuelta a España to his palmarès.
Although Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault both also won the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same year (1963 and 1978 respectively), Froome is the first rider to have done so since the Vuelta moved to a post-Tour date in the annual racing calendar (1995).
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The Sky rider consolidated his grip on the race in the final week, bouncing back from the rest day with stage victory in a flat 40.2km time trial to Logroño.
His margin yo-yoed again over the following two stages as he lost time to closest challenger Vincenzo Nibali on the steep concrete finish at Los Machucos and pulled some back at Santo Toribio de Liébana.
Lotto-Soudal may have played little part in the overall narrative of the Vuelta but the Belgian squad had a great week, adding to Tomasz Marczynski’s two stage victories earlier in the race with wins for Sander Armee on the uphill finish of stage 18…
…and the dogged Thomas de Gendt from a small group sprint the following day in Gijón. Hats were also raised for Stefan Denifl after he took Aqua Blue Sport’s first ever Grand Tour stage win by holding on from the early break at Los Machucos.
The GC battle reached high climax on the penultimate day’s leg to Alto de Angliru. Although only introduced in 1999, the Asturian climb is cemented in Vuelta legend, to which Alberto Contador added another chapter.
His bold attack on the preceding descent and stage victory at its summit marked a fitting finale to his career. His victory at last gave Spain the home stage victory it was itching for.
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Behind, the climb split the field to pieces. Froome –led by Wout Poels- once more underlined his strength while Ilnur Zakarin finished just behind the Sky tandem to nudge Wilco Kelderman out of third place and fend off the overall advances of the stage victor.
Even without sneaking into the final top-three, Contador was given a prominent enough retirement do when the race finished the next day in his native Madrid.
The Trek-Segafredo rider was permitted a celebratory cruise off-the-front as the race entered the city centre, enjoyed a flag-waving lap of honour and was later presented on the podium with his team.
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And while a fourth stage win for Matteo Trentin (a sixth for Quick Step in this year’s race) was exactly the kind of result you’d expect from a ceremonial sprinters’ benefit, Chris Froome with the help of his team mates added some extra spice by resisting Trentin’s challenge to take the green points jersey.
Quick Step threw their all at landing Trentin both the intermediate sprint and the stage, but by claiming eleventh in the final gallop to retain green, Froome once more showcased the spirit and versatility that’s put him in the company of Grand Tour greats.
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