Remco Evenepoel became the first Belgian to win a grand tour since 1978 on Sunday, the Quickstep-Alpha Vinyl rider confirming victory at the Vuelta a España.
Just 22, Evenepoel rolled across the final stage finish line in Madrid in 40th place to win the general classification by 2-02 ahead of Enric Mas (Movistar), with Jaun Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) in third place, a further three minutes back.
The final stage concluded with the expected bunch sprint, but the tight course, its related tight turns and the cumulative fatigue of three weeks racing made for a messy affair.
It was won by Juan Sebastián Molano, the UAE Team Emirate rider out-dragging his charge Pascal Ackermann, who eventually finished third. Having started the day as the outright favourite and wearing the green points jersey, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was second.
Trek-Segafredo had seemed in the box seat, Pedersen’s lead out, Alex Kirsch placing his leader perfectly, but UAE Team Emirates came with numbers, climber Marc Soler leading into the final kilometre and Molano managing the chaos perfectly.
Evenepoel built his winning advantage around his stage 10 time trial in Alicante, which he won by 48 seconds ahead of of Primož Roglič. Though the Jumbo-Visma rider had threatened to overhaul the young Belgian on stage 14, the Slovenian abandoned after a controversial crash and Evenepoel’s success was more likely, despite the efforts of Movistar’s Enric Mas.
How it happened
After last year’s sojourn to Galicia for a time trial finish in Santiago de Compostela, the final stage of the 2022 Vuelta returned to Madrid for its traditional conclusion.
Rolling out of Las Rozas, north-west of the Spanish capital, the peloton rode into the city before tackling nine laps of the same 5.8km city centre circuit the women tackled earlier in the day, making for a total of 96.7km.
Nearly pan flat, each lap of the final circuit was punctuated by three tight hairpin bends, the final one inside the closing kilometre, so those with stage wining ambitions would need to be perfectly positioned.
An interminably slow neutral roll out set the tone for the early kilometres, as is customary on the final day of a grand tour the pace was more like a club run social group, the riders chatting among themselves.
However, shortly after Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) led across the finish line in his valedictory Vuelta to begin the first lap with 52.2km to go, the racing began. After a few tentative attacks and an effort by Ineos Grenadiers’ Carlos Rodríguez to claim bonus seconds and move up the GC, his team mate Luke Plapp got off the front with Julius Johansen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux).
The pair took a measly 15 seconds across the line with just over 39km to go and over the following lap only increased that to 25, Xabier Azparren (Euskatel-Euskadi) dangling in between. The Basque rider did not survive the lap though, and the two leaders were unable to establish any sort of meaningful advantage, never getting more than 30 seconds up the road.
In the bunch a variety of teams with sprint ambitions patrolled the front, Trek-Segafredo, BORA-Hansgrohe, BikeExchange-Jayco and Alpecin-Deceuninck holding the leading duo close. With two laps and 11.6km to go the breakaway were only 21 seconds clear. Next time round the lead was down to 13 seconds and any hint the leader’s might survive was snuffed out.
Despite being just two or three metres away from the seething bunch in the penultimate hairpin, Plapp and Johansen held on and rode into the final bend, around five metres off the front, but were caught immediately after, the expected bunch sprint at last a certainty.
Result Vuelta a España, stage 21: Las Rozas - Madrid (96.7km)
1. Juan Sebastián Molano (Col) UAE Team Emirates in 2-26-36
2. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
3. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) UAE team Emirates
4. Mike Teunissen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
5. Danny van Poppel (Ned) BORA-Hansgrohe
6. Kaden Groves (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco
7. Fred Wright (GBr) Bahrain Victorious
8. Lionel Taminaux (Bel) Alpecin-Deceuninck
9. Ben Turner (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
10. Cedric Beullens (Bel) Lotto Soudal all at same time
Final general classification
1. Remco Evenpoel (Bel) Quickstep-Alpha Vinyl in 80-26-59
2. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar at 2-02
3. Juan Ayuso (Esp) UAE Team Emirates at 4-57
4. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Qazaqstan at 5-56
5. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates at 7-24
6. Thymen Arensman (Ned) DSM at 7-45
7. Carlos Rodríguez (Esp) Ineos Grenadiers 7-57
8. Ben O’Connor (Aus) AG2R Citroën at 10-30
9. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education EasyPost at 11-04
10. Jai Hindley (Aus) BORA-Hansgrohe at 12-01
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.
11 of the best photos from the 2022 Road World Championships
There were tears, hugs and kisses in Wollongong, Australia
By Tom Davidson • Published
Don’t expect too much from Zoe Bäckstedt, says teenager’s British Cycling coach
Junior academy coach Emma Trott has warned against piling pressure on the 18-year-old
By Tom Davidson • Published
Adam Yates leaves Ineos Grenadiers for UAE Team Emirates
British rider agrees three year deal with new team
By Tom Thewlis • Published
Analysing the Vuelta a España's revolutionary podium and what it means for the future
The Vuelta had first teenager on a Grand Tour podium since 1904 and the youngest top five this century
By Adam Becket • Published