(Reuters) - Chris Froome became the first Briton to win the Vuelta a Espana and the third rider to win a double of the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season when he finished the race by retaining his advantage over Vincenzo Nibali on Sunday.
Froome and Nibali crossed the Madrid finish line together, allowing Team Sky rider Froome to stay two minutes 15 seconds ahead of the Italian after the processional, 117.5-km stage.
Italian Matteo Trentin took the stage victory, his fourth of this year’s Vuelta, but narrowly missed out to Froome on the green jersey for the points classification.
Froome is the third cyclist to win the Tour and the Vuelta in the same year, after Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978.
He is also the first to win both races since 1995 when the Vuelta was shifted from its old start date in late April to late August, when temperatures in Spain are at their highest and put an extra strain on riders.
“What Chris Froome has achieved over the last 12 months has cemented his place as one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen,” said British Cycling’s chief executive Julie Harrington.
“To win the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana in the same year puts him up there with the best Grand Tour riders in the history of the sport. The cycling community in this country and indeed the whole nation are extremely proud of him.”
Although the general classification victory was in the bag, Froome did not let up in the final stage and joined the bunch sprint at the end, coming 11th, the best finish of the general classification group, with Russian Ilnur Zakarin, third overall, 18th and runner-up Nibali 22nd.
Alberto Contador came in seven seconds behind in the final professional stage of his career a day after winning the punishing last mountain stage at the Alto de l‘Angliru to bow out in style.
The three-time Vuelta winner was serenaded by Spanish supporters on the podium by the Cibeles palace in Madrid, while his Trek Segafredo team mates jokingly urged him to postpone his imminent retirement, chanting: “One more year for Alberto”.
“I don’t have words to explain the feeling I have in this moment, it was incredible, to see all the fans at the finish line, to be here in my home city,” Contador told reporters.
“I passed all the cars and the road was only for me. After 15 hard years of fighting this is a very special day, a dream; I couldn’t have wished for a better goodbye than this.”
The Spaniard said he had no second thoughts about calling time on his career and alluded to the daredevil attitude he is renowned for.
“I said when I started that I wanted to finish at the top level and I think now it’s the (right) moment. I think I gave the maximum in every race in all these 15 years, I trained very hard and I did it with my heart,” he said.
“Cycling is a sport where the most important thing is victory but I think the spectacle is also important. I did everything I could in this Vuelta, I thank my team mates for giving me the opportunity to attack whenever I wanted.”
Editing by Clare Fallon