John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) ended a disappointing final weekend of the Vuelta a Espana on a high for his team, as Fabio Aru (Astana) sealed his first Grand Tour victory.
After team-mate Tom Dumoulin lost his grip on the red jersey on the penultimate day, sliding down the overall standings to finish sixth, Degenkolb offered some consolation with his first stage win of this year’s race on the Madrid circuit.
Degenkolb had suffered a number of near misses at both the Vuelta and the Tour de France beforehand, but the German made no mistake in the final Grand Tour stage of the year – kicking twice to outsprint Danny van Poppel.
Aru, meanwhile, enjoyed a trouble free evening to seal the red jersey though second-placed Joaquim Rodriguez was denied the points jersey on the final day after Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the intermediate sprint.
That sprint was the first time the usual festival-like atmosphere of the final stage was broken up, and was followed by a six-man break – including King of the Mountains Omar Fraile (Caja Rural) going clear.
As ever they were given some air time out front, but the peloton made light work of sweeping them up on the penultimate lap.
Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) attacked soon afterwards, but after his shock victory on the final day of the Giro d’Italia the sprint teams were quick to ensure he was not given the same freedom again.
The same fate befell stage 19 winner Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) too, with Trek Factory Racing, Lampre-Merida, BMC Racing and Orica-GreenEDGE all working in the chase.
Giant-Alpecin hit the front inside the final two kilometres though, setting Degenkolb up perfectly for the final sprint.
The German went early, and was closed down by van Poppel and Jempy Drucker (BMC Racing) but had plenty in the tank to kick again and succeed by a couple of bike lengths.
Degenkolb’s victory was his tenth at the Vuelta a Espana, and Giant-Alpecin’s third of the race after Dumoulin’s earlier double.
But the real celebrations belonged to Aru, who rolled in alongside the team-mates who had worked so hard to distance Dumoulin the previous day and seal a first Grand Tour victory for the 25-year-old.
Aru has now finished in the top five in all four of his last Grand Tour appearances, and – after a race which started with team-mate Vincenzo Nibali’s disqualification for holding onto a team car – ensured Astana’s difficult year ends on a high.
Vuelta a Espana 2015: stage 21 – result
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin – 2.34.13hrs
2) Danny van Poppel (NED) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
3) Jean-Pierre Drucker (LUX) – BMC Racing
4) Daryl Impey (RSA ) – Orica-GreenEDGE
5) Tosh van der Sande (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal
6) Maximiliano Richeze (ARG) – Lampre-Merida
7) Nikolas Maes (BEL) – Etixx-QuickStep
8) Kristian Sbaragli (ITA) – MTN-Qhubeka
9) Kevin Reza (FRA) – FDJ
10) Tom van Asbroeck (BEL) – LottoNL-Jumbo
1) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana – 85.36.13hrs
2) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +57”
3) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +1.09
4) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +1.42
5) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +3.10
6) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Alpecin +3.46
7) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +6.47
8) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky +7.06
9) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +7.12
10) Louis Meintjes (RSA) – MTN-Qhubeka +10.26