Vuelta a Espaņa - Cobo triumphs as Sagan takes third win
Mon, 12 Sep 08:51:00 2011
Spain's Juan Jose Cobo won the Vuelta a Espaņa as Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan completed a hat-trick of victories in the final stage into Madrid.
Youngster Sagan proved the strongest in the race's finale on the streets of Madrid, powering past Italian pair Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) to take the third win of his debut Grand Tour.
But all eyes were on Spaniard Cobo, who crossed the line with his arms aloft as he secured his overall win in the 66th edition of the Vuelta.
The 30-year-old Geox-TMC rider finished the three-week stage race just 13 seconds clear of Team Sky's Chris Froome, whose British compatriot and team-mate Bradley Wiggins completed the podium in third place, 1:39 down on Cobo.
There was disappointment for the home nation, however, when double stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) lost the green jersey on the final day after young Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) took ninth place in the bunch sprint to move above the Spaniard in the points standings.
Vuelta a Espaņa : Resume
In yet another hot and sunny day in Spain, the final 95km stage 21 got off to a typically slow and processional start at the El Jarama motor racing course in the outskirts of Madrid.
Once the riders hit the wide streets of the Spanish capital for 10 laps of a technical circuit around the city centre, three riders broke clear of the pack.
Damiano Caruso (Liquigas), Joan Horrach (Katusha) and Jose Alberto Benitez (Andalucia) never managed to pull out a lead of more than a minute, and once the teams of the sprinters came to the front of the pack, the trio was reeled in with 10km to the finish.
A nervous final kilometre saw the pace drop dramatically before Skil-Shimano led out the sprint 500m from the line.
Veteran Italian Petacchi - without a win since May's Giro d'Italia - zipped into pole position only to be over-taken on the inside by compatriot Bennati, winner of the race's previous stage in the Basque capital of Vitoria.
But Sagan - the stage 6 and 12 winner - roared through in the middle of the road to pip Bennati for the win and complete a remarkable hat-trick in his first ever three-week Grand Tour.
Three wins for the 21-year-old Sagan, the race's youngest rider, has made up for the disappointment of the performance of Vincenzo Nibali, the Liquigas team leader and defending champion, who could only finish seventh in the GC after failing to find form during the second half of the race.
Cobo's overall victory will be celebrated all over Spain as much for its brilliance as for its unexpected nature: the Spaniard was on the verge of quitting the sport earlier in the season after struggling to replicate the results he achieved while riding for the now-defunct Saunier Duval team.
Cobo, who finished 10th in the 2009 Vuelta, moved into the race lead after a magnificent stage-winning performance up the legendary climb of the Angliru on stage 15.
Despite being put under pressure by Team Sky pair Wiggins and Froome throughout the final week, Cobo managed to hold on to his overall lead - although the 'Bull' saw his advantage whittled down to just 13 seconds when the Kenyan-born Froome won a thrilling stage 17 in style at Pena Cabarga.
Although they failed to topple Cobo, it was a historic day for Sky's podium pair: not only was Froome's second-place the best result for the British-based team in Grand Tours - it was also the first time two British riders have made the podium in one of cycling's three biggest events.
French veteran David Moncoutie (Cofidis) safely completed the final stage to secure his fourth successive king of the mountains title - before vowing to return in 2012 to go for an unprecedented fifth successive polka dot jersey.
The 2012 Vuelta a Espaņa will start on 18 August with a team time trial in Pamplona in northern Spain.Felix Lowe / Eurosport