Fabio Aru claimed his first Grand Tour win yesterday when he was crowned winner of the Vuelta A Espana after an enthralling three-week battle with Dutchman Tom Dumoulin.
The latter looked imperious on Friday when he dropped Aru on the run-in to the finish in Avila, extending his advantage over the Italian to six seconds ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
However, Dumoulin’s dream ended on a disastrous penultimate day when he was dropped long before the finish and not only lost the race leader’s red jersey but slipped to sixth on General Classification.
Granted, a 175km journey that featured six climbs was never going to favour a man more suited to the flatter stages but Aru’s performance was truly awesome as he put close to four minutes into the Giant Alpecin man to take the race lead.
Yesterday’s final stage into Madrid was merely processional and there were no changes at the top of the General Classification, meaning Aru held on to the jersey by 1:17 from Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) with Polish rider Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) a further 12 seconds back.
Nicolas Roche finished his sixth Vuelta as Team Sky’s sole stage winner in the three-week Tour, the Irishman taking one of his biggest ever victories on last Thursday’s journey from Roa to Riaza.
He didn’t feature in the sprint that decided yesterday’s final stage but he can look back on the race with a lot of pride, finishing 26th overall at 52:44.
Starting the race three weeks ago as a domestique for team leader Chris Froome, Roche proved he was also worth supporting given his aggression and top condition.
He was inside the top four overall until a bad day in Andorra on stage 11 saw him slip down the standings.
He had taken six top-10 placings to that point of the race; the best of which was his third place on stage 2.
His slip on stage 11, to 22nd overall, came on the back of some bad crashes. And on that same day to Encamp, Froome’s race ended, leaving Sky without a man to whom they could give full backing.
Mikel Nieve was riding well and inside the top 10 but never looked like he’d really challenge the podium.
The plan for Team Sky changed when they sent men up the road to try and get a stage win, with Ian Boswell going very close on that stage in Andorra, taking third.
Roche was also given licence to roam and he grabbed third on stage 13 to Tarazona, where he was sprinting for second from the break as Nelson Oliviera (Lampre Merida) went clear 25km earlier.
Chances were slipping away for the team but Roche stepped in to save the day on Thursday, taking what he will definitely regard as one of his best ever wins.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Stephanie Pohl wrapped up the overall victory at the An Post Rás na mBan yesterday as Eileen Roe claimed the final stage into Ennis.
Roe (WV Breda Manieu.nl) sprinted in ahead of a lead group of 31 riders to take the sixth and final stage with Pohl safely in the bunch, thus preserving the race leader’s pink jersey.
Pohl is the second German winner of the event following Stephanie Gronow’s victory in the first event in 2006.
Irish riders Eve McCrystal (Richie’s Garda CC) and Lydia Boylan (WNT) were both within half a minute of Pohl starting yesterday and they made a brave bid for victory, racing clear in the closing kilometres and opening up an advantage of 15 seconds as they charged towards the line.
Alas, they would be reeled in inside 1km to go and they had to settle for sixth and ninth overall.
McCrystal had the consolation of being the best Irish rider in the race.
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