Denis Menchov (Rabobank) won his second Vuelta in three years on Sunday - something that was always on the cards ever since he moved into the lead two weeks ago.
Much as has been the case ever since that momentous stage nine to Cerler, on the last day?s racing into Madrid another rider, not Menchov, provided the entertainment.
With Oscar Freire (Rabobank) long since departed from the race, the Vuelta bunch sprints have become the Italian fastmen?s private property, and in Madrid Daniele Bennati (Lampre) lunged for the line just a shade harder than compatriot Alessandro Petacchi (Milram).
Bennati?s third stage win earned him the final points jersey to boot, as well as the opportunity to sound off yet again about his non-selection for the World Championships.
?I?m dedicating this win to [Italian national coach] Franco Ballerini.? Bennati - victorious this year on the Champs Elysées as well as in Madrid - said afterwards. ?As for the World?s, I don?t think I?ll even bother watching it on TV.?
Menchov himself rolled across the line in the main bunch without any real fuss, more than satisfied that on this occasion - unlike in 2005, when he found out he?d won months later after Roberto Heras tested positive for EPO - he was able to get on the final podium and celebrate his victory exactly as he deserved.
The Russian also raked in the overall victory in the King of the Mountains competition, with Caisse D?Epargne taking the teams competition.
Overall the Vuelta had hardly been one of the most thrilling in the history of three-week racing. Only in the last three days has the final battle for the right to stand next to Menchov on the podium - with Evans, Sastre, Sanchez and Efimkin fighting for two places - has, thankfully, helped maintain some fading interest.
But the Russian?s supremacy was established too quickly and the route was too easy in the second half for there to be any real chance of Menchov cracking. A lesson which hopefully organisers Unipublic - normally good at maintaining the tension right up until the last minute in their race routes - will remember for 2008.
Daniele Bennati wins the final sprint against Alessandro Petacchi in Madrid. Photos by Graham Watson
Tour of Spain stage 21 Rivas Vaciamadrid - Madrid 104.2kms
1 Daniele Bennati (Italy) Lampre 2-37-27
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
3 Aliaksandre Usau (Byl) Ag2R
4 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Credit Agricole
5 David Vigano (Ita) Quick Step
6 Andre Greipel (Ger) T-Mobile
7 Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
8 Erki Putsep (Est) Bouygues
9 Daniel Moreno (Spa) Relax-Gam
10 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
25 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas all st
Tour of Spain Final Overall
1 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 80-59-07
2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC at 3-31
3 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3-46
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto at 3-56
5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 6-34
6 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Caisse D?Epargne at 7-07
7 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse D?Epargne at 8-09
8 Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 8-44
9 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Liquigas at 9-38
10 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 10-12
128 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas at 2-38-46
The 2007 Tour of Spain draws to a close in Madrid. Photos by Graham Watson.
TOUR OF SPAIN 2007: STAGE REPORTS
Stage 20: Third stage win gives Sanchez third overall
Stage 19: Evans cracks, slides to third overall
Stage 18: Sastre stirs up Tour of Spain
Stage 17: Bennati leads Italian sprint fest
Stage 16: Duque takes transition stage
Stage 15: Menchov stays on top
Stage 14: Almost goodbye, but Discovery still winning
Stage 13: Klier ends four-year gap with win
Stage 12: Petacchi racks up the wins
Stage 11: Petacchi puts troubles behind him for stage win
Rest day review
Stage 10: Menchov proves he's the boss
Stage nine: Menchov takes control
Stage eight (TT): Devolder soars to race lead
Stage seven: Zabel surprise winner
Stage six: Freire outguns Petacchi for stage hat-trick
Stage five: Freire takes second bunch sprint victory
Stage four: Efimkin upstages favourites in Vuelta
Stage three: Bettini bounces back with Vuelta stage win
Stage two: Freire nets stage win and Vuelta lead
Stage one: Bennati takes race lead in bunch sprint
Tour of Spain preview, including stage and team list
Astana out of 2007 Tour of Spain
Eurosport cycling TV schedule for September
Vuelta confirms support for ASO in ProTour row
Vinokourov wins 2006 Tour of Spain overall
Official site: www.lavuelta.com.
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