Grand Tour sweep for Britain as Yates wins Spanish Vuelta
MADRID (AP) — Simon Yates won his first Grand Tour title after a largely ceremonial ride into Madrid in the final stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday, giving British riders a sweep of the season's three biggest races.
The 26-year-old Englishman was dominant throughout the three-week race across Spain, thriving on the toughest climbs and the flattest routes to secure the victory after a last stage in which riders didn't attack the leaders under cycling tradition.
Yates' Vuelta title means Britain has swept the three Grand Tours. Geraint Thomas of Wales won the Tour de France in July and Kenyan-born British rider Chris Froome the Giro d'Italia in May.
Froome was the defending Vuelta champion and also won the Tour de France last year, meaning Britain has five straight Grand Tour victories.
"It's astonishing really," Yates said. "Growing up I was so accustomed to seeing the French, Italian and Spanish riders lead the way, so for myself, Chris and Geraint to all win a Grand Tour in the same year just shows how far the sport has come in this country."
Thomas and Froome skipped the race in Spain this year.
Italian rider Elia Viviani won the final sprint for his third stage win in this year's Vuelta, with Peter Sagan close behind him.
Yates, who rides for team Mitchelton-Scott, successfully defended his lead of almost two minutes in Saturday's demanding 20th stage, the last competitive one since the peloton took off from Malaga on Aug. 25. On Sunday, riders mostly paraded in a 100.9-kilometer (62.7-mile) route from the city of Alcorcon to the center of the Spanish capital.
Yates held the leader's red jersey through stages 9-11, then won stage 14 in the northwestern Picos de Europa mountains to take full control of the race until the end.
Spain's Enric Mas, from team Quick-Step Floors, won Saturday's difficult stage in Andorra and finished second in the general classification, 1 minute, 46 seconds behind Yates. Miguel Angel Lopez of Colombia, from thte Astana Pro Team, was third, more than two minutes off the lead.
"It's been a great moment to appear on the final podium," Mas said. "It was my goal although I kept it for myself coming into the race ... I hope for more moments like this in the future, including on the top spot."
Veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde was in contention from the first day but failed to keep pace with Yates on Saturday, dropping to fifth for Movistar in the final overall standings. Steven Kruijswijk of Team Lotto NL-Jumbo finished ahead of Valverde in fourth place.
Yates had already come close to a Grand Tour victory in the Giro d'Italia in May, a race he led for 13 stages before losing the lead to eventual winner Froome with two days left.
"It's still hard to believe that I've won," Yates said. "I was disappointed to not win the Giro but I've made it up. I'm in shock. I got really nervous when I went on stage. My natural habitat is on the bike . I enjoyed the moment. It was a very special one."
Yates made his Grand Tour debut in the 2014 Tour de France. In last year's Tour, he won the young rider's classification, finishing seventh overall.
Movistar ended first in the overall team classification.
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