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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Remco Evenepoel wraps up first overall grand tour victory

Juan Sebastian Molano takes the final stage for UAE Team Emirates.

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Remco Evenepoel (Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl) rolled over the line safely on the final stage of this year’s Vuelta a España with his arms aloft to confirm his and his team’s first grand tour victory, and Belgium’s first since 1978.

Long earmarked as one of cycling’s biggest talents, the 22-year-old capped a remarkable season in which he has also won his first monument at Liège–Bastogne–Liège as well as the Clásica San Sebástian and the Tour of Norway.

Ahead of him, Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates) won the last stage of the race after the peloton reeled in the breakaway duo of Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) and Julius Johansen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) with less than a kilometer to spare.

Molano outsprinted his teammate Pascal Ackermann and the green jersey Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo) to take his first win at World Tour level.

“It really sinks in, it’s really official now,” Evenepoel said after the stage. “Already yesterday the emotions were quite high because you could feel that we were actually there but you still have to finish the race here safe. I think we were perfect, we enjoyed it as much as possible. Now, we can really enjoy it.

“I had not much time to think because it was a really technical course and it was getting nervous every lap so it was not that nice anymore in the end but I’m happy we survived and we are here now.

“It’s history for my team, for my country, for myself and I think we can be really proud of what we did the last three weeks.”

How it happened

The final 96.7km long, ceremonial stage of the Vuelta a España set out from Las Rozas, a town just north of Madrid, and finished with nine laps in the capital city itself, marking an end to three weeks of racing and the grand tour season.

The classification winners – Evenepoel in his red jersey, Pedersen in green, Carapaz in his polka-dots and Ayuso wearing white as its custodian for Evenepoel – sat at the front of the peloton as it rolled over the start line, and through the opening meters of the neutral zone, lapping up the applause of spectators on the roadside.

And there was little to distinguish between the neutral zone and the race as teams rotated off the back, rather than the front, for the obligatory post-race photos.

Evenepoel and his team were among those taking pictures, celebrating an impressive victory after the young Belgian ultimately dominated the race with a 16 day stint in the red jersey and two stage wins, despite briefly cracking in the high mountains.

“He’s been very impressive,” four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome said after the race. “I had a few doubts towards the end of the second week, he showed a few weaknesses but he’s held on really well in the last few days and chapeau. He deserves the victory and I look forward to seeing what he does next.”

There were more ceremonial duties once the race reached Madrid as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was afforded the honor of leading the peloton into the city in his final grand tour much to the delight of the home fans lining the road.

Behind him, QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl shepherded the peloton across the first lap as the winning team and the first attacks of the day were launched with just under 50km still to race but Movistar sat on the front, preventing the formation of any breakaway

Without a breakaway up the road to sweep up the bonus seconds, Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos-Grenadiers) launched his own attack with his team in an attempt to win the intermediate sprint and its bonus seconds to move up a place in the general classification but was ultimately unable to do so.

When a breakaway eventually did form it was composed of Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) and Julius Johansen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) who built up an advantage that reached 25 seconds over a peloton controlled by Trek-Segafredo and Alpecin-Deceuninck.

Their gap remained stable even as the kilometers ticked down, and panic began to set in among the sprinters’ teams when they still had 20 seconds advantage with just 12km still to race.

But even with this injection of pace, the gap still held as the peloton was forced to stall almost to a standstill at the hairpin corners on the course while Johansen and Plapp continued sharing the workload at the front effectively.

They passed through the finish line for the penultimate time to enter the final lap ten seconds ahead of the peloton and were eventually caught with a kilometer to go.

UAE Team Emirates led out the sprint, ostensibly for Ackermann before his leadout man Molano proved the fastest on the finishing straight to take the win.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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