George Bennett has made history as becoming the highest placed Kiwi in any grand tour.  Bennett secured tenth place overall by finishing successfully in the main field as Magnus Cort Nielsen of Orica-BikeExchange won the stage ahead of Daniele Bennati and Gianni Meersman.  Overall Nairo Quintana did enough to win his second grand tour and first Vuelta a Espana.

Las Rozas to Madrid brought the curtain down on the 2016 Vuelta a Espana.  The 104.1km stage featured a very small finishing circuit, pancake flat and tailored for the sprinters.  As expected the final stage began with a very casual section of racing.  Nairo Quintana, clad in all red, was a picture of happiness with his team, clinking glasses of champagne, posing for photographers and enjoying the spectacle of it all.

 

Four to the front in a high-speed circuit race

 

The racing would begin but not until more than half the day’s work was done.  On the finishing circuit with 48km remaining Peter Kennaugh of Team Sky, Quentin Jauregui of AG2R La Mondiale, Loic Chetout of Cofidis and Koen Bouwman of LottoNL-Jumbo went on the attack.  Bouwman was last to make the catch to the breakaway, crossing the line with 8 laps left to go.  Movistar quickly allowed the break to gain 40 seconds but the pace was kept high around the circuits by Movistar and GIANT-Alpecin.

With 39km to go the gap had grown to 1.20mins and with 33km to go Orica-BikeExchange lent their support to the chase, bringing the gap back down to 1.05mins.  It didn’t take long for the break’s lead to be cut back down to the sub-minute margin.  Kennaugh kept charging in the break but with 21km to go the gap was just 38 seconds.

 

Bowman the first to drop off

 

Eventually something had to give and it was Bouwman who was first to be dropped, with the peloton bearing down on the break.  With less than 12km to go Kennaugh too drifted back to the bunch leaving just the two Frenchmen Chetout and Jauregui out in front.  They lasted together until the bell, where Jauregui dropped off the pace; leaving Chetout as the last man standing.  Finally though Chetout was swept up and brought back into the fold, and It was all to play for in the sprint with 5km to go.

Etixx-Quick Step, Movistar, Team Sky, all three had riders at the head of the race, but on the left hand side of the road Sam Bewley was riding strongly for Orica-BikeExchange.  He still had a little way to go to position his man perfectly though.  Tinkoff were next to hit the front with 4km left, with riders from FDJ and IAM Cycling respectively coming up.  Through the U-turn with 3.1km to go Manuele Boaro of Tinkoff led with GIANT-Alpecin and Etixx-Quick Step poised and ready to pounce.

 

Magnus Cort Nielsen claims Orica-BikeExchange win #4

 

Tyler Farrar of Dimension Data made a strong move on the left to support Kristian Sbaragli, but Etixx-Quick Step were playing a very composed game.  With 1.7km left Chrisitan Knees launched a move on the right side of the road to hit the front, before GIANT-Alpecin hit the front of the race with a kilometre to go.

Tobias Ludgvigsson led through the final uU-turn, as BMC Racing made a move.  Suddenly Jens Keukeleire of Orica-BikeExchange charged through to try and lead out Magnus Cort Nielsen.  He bided his time in the sprint as Gianni Meersman moved through and looked to have done enough.  But the Dane timed his sprint perfectly, even after Daniele Bennati appeared to have blocked him in.

In the end it was Cort Nielsen who secured the win ahead of Bennati with Meersman third and Sbaragli in fourth place.  It was Magnus Cort Nielsen’s second win of the Vuelta this year and Orica-BikeExchange’s fourth in what has been a phenomenal grand tour for the Australian outfit.

 

George Bennett makes history

 

George Bennett crossed the line in 29th place, losing no time to any of the riders close to him in the general classification.  The result means that Nairo Quintana wins the Vuelta a Espana ahead of Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves, with Alberto Contador fourth and Andrew Talansky fifth.  Simon Yates is the second Orica-BikeExchange rider in the top ten with 6th, David de la Cruz of Etixx-Quick Step takes seventh, Daniel Moreno – the second Movistar rider in the top ten – takes eighth, and another Cannondale-Drapac rider in Davide Formolo takes ninth place ahead of a history making George Bennett in tenth place.

The points classification went the way of Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline who won the classification by just three points from Nairo Quintana and 7 points ahead of Alejandro Valverde.  The gap was even closer in the big of the mountains classification, as Omar Fraile of Dimension Data took the classification by just one point ahead of Kenny Elissonde of FDJ, and 21 points clear of Robert Gesink of LottoNL-Jumbo.  In the team classification it was BMC Racing who finished well clear of Movistar and Cannondale-Drapac.

 

Photo:  Sirotti

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