Magnus Cort Nielsen wins again
The 2016 Vuelta a España may have been one without any elite sprinters, but in the future it might be remembered as the race that Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-BikeExchange) first made a name for himself.
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The Danish sprinter won a bunch finish a couple of days ago on stage 18, and was even more impressive today.
Despite having to check himself upon starting his sprint, and despite having to squeeze through a small gap between Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) and Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quick Step), he still had the legs and manoeuvrability to come out on top.
At only 23-years of age, Cort Nielsen still has plenty of scope for improvement, so we can expect to see him take on some of the bigger name sprinters in years to come.
The Colombians come out in numbers to celebrate
With Quintana crowned champion, and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) making the podium in third place as well, they had plenty to celebrate.
The noise the assembled crowd made as Quintana claimed his place at the top of the podium after the stage was deafening, and helped create a party atmosphere the kind of which we rarely see in pro cycling.
They even continued to sing the national anthem acapella after it had finished playing during the podium ceremony.
With Quintana and Chaves continuing to improve, and a whole host of other talents coming through, we can expect cycling in Colombia to get bigger and bigger in coming years.
Froome gracious in defeat
As Chris Froome (Team Sky) said in the post-race interview, he came to this Vuelta with the aim of winning, nevertheless he looked relatively content as he stood on the second step of the podium, and paid tribute to the overall victor.
He also described 2016 as the most successful of his career so far, which, given that he’d never before won the Tour and made it onto the Vuelta podium in the same season before, seems a fair assessment – especially when his overall victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné and bronze at the Olympics are factored in.
Having now finished second at the Vuelta three times in his career, however, he’ll no doubt be determined to win the race before his career comes to an end, especially having demonstrated this year that it is possible to bring close to top form both here and at the Tour in the same season.
Fabio Felline wins the points jersey
There was still one major jersey yet to be decided heading into today’s stage; the points classification.
For Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) to be at risk of losing it, either Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) or Luis León Sánchez (Astana) needed to score some serious points, but neither featured in the sprint finish.
The mountainous terrain of the Vuelta means that the points classification tends to lean towards all-rounders rather than sprinters, and so it proved this year.
We commented yesterday on Felline’s remarkably all-round ability, and, despite missing out on his targeted stage win, this jersey feels like just reward.
Teams in last chance saloon miss out
Heading into Sunday’s final stage, eight teams yet to win either a stage or a jersey – Astana, Giant-Alpecin, Lotto-Soudal, Cannondale-Drapac, Tinkoff, Bora-Argon 18, Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and Cofidis.
With Magnus Cort Nielsen winning the sprint and making it four stage wins for Orica-BikeExchange, all eight failed to put that right, and therefore come home from the Vuelta empty handed.
Despite that, there wasn’t too much urgency shown to attempt to salvage the race. Giant-Alpecin again led out the sprint, and Cofidis placed Loic Chetout in the break, but aside from that all of these teams were surprisingly quiet.
Bora-Argon, Caja Rural and Cofidis at least have the excuse that their wildcard status, but for the other five teams (though Cannondale did place two riders in the top-10 overall), missing out on a stage win in this Vuelta will go down as a disappointment.