Vuelta a Espana 2017
Three time a runner-up in La Vuelta, Team Sky’s Froome finally won the third of cycling’s Grand Tours to secure a historic double following his earlier fourth triumph in July’s Tour de France.
After a largely processional stage – during which Froome sipped on a celebratory bottle of beer and glass of Cava before sobering up with a coffee – the 32-year-old was not content to finish the 117.6km ride safely ensconced by his trusty Sky team-mates.
Quite the contrary. Instead, Froome sprinted to eleventh place in the final sprint to retain his green jersey lead over the stage winner Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) by just two points.
Italy’s Trentin held off Frenchman Lorrenzo Manzin (FDJ) and the Dane Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) to take his fourth win on the streets of the Spanish capital.
Needing victory to keep his green hopes alive, Trentin’s delivered on his part of the deal – but Froome’s late surge made it all immaterial, with the bullish red jersey also securing green, as well as the white combined classification, to cap a dominant performance over three weeks.
Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida – the 2011 champion – finished runner-up to Froome in the battle for red, 2’15” down on the race summit after 3,298km in the saddle.
The Russian Ilnur Zakarin – the 27-year-old at Katusha-Alpecin – finished third, at 2’51”, thanks to a late attack on the final climb of Saturday’s penultimate stage, to snatch the first Grand Tour podium finish in his career in his debut Vuelta.
Spain’s Alberto Contador, the Trek-Segafredo veteran who won Stage 20 on the Alto de L’Angliru, finished fourth, with Dutch youngster Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) completing the top five.
The final stage concluded with eight laps of a city centre course in Madrid. Team Sky hustled Quick-Step Floors for the intermediate sprint after two laps – but Trentin picked up the maximum four points to keep him on course to reel in Froome, the overnight points classification leader.
Froome, who surprised in contesting the intermediate sprint, had a close shave when he brushed shoulders with the Italian’s team-mate Julian Alaphilippe near the barriers. If it was a potential heart-in-mouth moment that could derailed his double attempt at the 11th hour, it showed that the race leader was bend on giving no gifts.
Three riders – Italy’s Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Portugal’s Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) and the Australian Nicholas Schultz (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) – broke clear in the immediate aftermath to build up a maximum lead of 15 seconds.
But the last men standing – Costa and De Marchi – were caught inside the final 10km to set up the grandstand finale, one which Froome gatecrashed to make Quick-Step go green with envy.
An otherwise content Trentin said: “He [Froome] told me he wanted to defend it and he made it. Yeah, it’s pity because with four victories but not to win the green jersey is kind of a joke. But it’s like this. With four wins, I think I’ll survive.”
Runner-up in 2011, 2014 and 2016, and fourth in 2012, Froome described his overall win as his “greatest achievement” after finally standing atop the podium in Madrid as Vuelta champion.
He becomes the third man in history to win the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season, following Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978).
But both French legends achieved their shared feat when the Vuelta was a two-week race held in the spring – making Froome the first man to win such a prestigious double since the Vuelta was switched to its pre-World Championships slot in 1995.
It marks a fifth Grand Tour victory for Froome after his victories in the Tour de France in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Froome led the race after just three days – and wore the red jersey for the remaining 18 stages. His only wobble in an otherwise flawless race came in Stage 12 where he crashed twice in as many minutes before fighting back to limit his losses at Antequera.
Ironically, Froome achieved his unprecedented double in a year which has yielded him the fewest wins since his meteoric rise in 2013. Indeed, Froome won his fourth Tour in July without tasting a single victory on the roads of France – nor in any previous race during the season.
But Froome’s Vuelta triumph came not only off the back of a superlative Team Sky collective effort, but also with Froome showcasing the two major weapons in his armoury – with Stage 9 success atop the famous Cumbre del Sol climb capped by an emphatic victory in the individual time trial in Stage 16.
A barnstorming ride alongside dependable lieutenant Wout Poels on the mythical Angliru – with the two Sky riders finishing 17 seconds behind the popular winner, Contador – secured the red jersey for Froome, after his nearest rival, Nibali, struggled on the double-digit ramps following a crash on a wet earlier descent.
Team Sky – who wore special limited edition black kits with a red trim – were one of four teams to finish with a full complement of nine riders, with Poels, a more than capable deputy to Froome, rising to sixth place after a strong final week.
However, the British team did not win the team classification, which instead was won by the Astana team of double stage winner Miguel Angel Lopez, who finished eighth on GC.
Canada’s Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and the American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) completed the top-ten.
Like Froome, Italy’s Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac) picked up the polka dot jersey after Stage 3 and wore it all the way to the finish – building up a commanding lead over the smaller climbs in the first and second week, before doing enough in a mountainous final week to be crowned king of the mountain.
Sunday’s final stage to Madrid marked the last professional appearance for the Spanish veteran Contador, who bade farewell to the sport after an illustrious career that saw him win nine Grand Tours, including three Vueltas.
The peloton allowed Contador the honour of riding ahead on his own for 5km before the eight laps of the circuit in Madrid – to rapturous applause of the home fans who he has entertained endlessly with his attacking exploits over the years.
“Everything went perfectly and I couldn’t have dreamed for more,” Contador said ahead of the final stage. “I attacked when I wanted to attack. I won a stage – on the Angliru in front of so many people. It’s been a hugely memorable Vuelta and one that I’ll never forget. I’ve been driven mad by the joy of it all.”
His victory on Saturday saw Contador come within 20 seconds of the final spot on the podium. But by finishing fourth overall, Contador assures that he has only ever stood on the top step of a Grand Tour podium: mirroring his attacking style, it has always been all or nothing for Contador.
Meanwhile, Australian veteran Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) finished the race safely to complete his 19th consecutive Grand Tour to extend a record that will probably never be beaten. He already has his sights set on making it up to a round 20 at next year’s Giro d’Italia.
Whether or not Froome turns his attention to the Giro – the only Grand Tour to elude him – remains to be seen. But with his focus now on becoming the fifth rider to win five Tours de France, it’s safe to say that Froome won’t be racing in Italy next May.
Final general classification
1 Christopher Froome (Gbr) Team Sky 82h 30m 02s, 2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 2m 15s, 3 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 2:51, 4 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb at 3:15, 5 Alberto Contador (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 3:18, 6 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky at 6:59, 7 Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac at 8:27, 8 Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Pro Team at 9:13, 9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 11:18, 10 Tejay van Garderen(USA) BMC Racing Team 15:50