Vuelta a España • Stage21

Cercedilla - Madrid

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Alberto Contador takes victory from Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez. Thanks for following our LIVE coverage of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana.


Alejandro Valverde did enough to pip Joaquin Rodriguez in the points classification.


Degenkolb takes the win from Viviani (Liquigas) on the line.


Argos Shimano doing a perfect lead out for Degenkolb.


Under the red kite and Liquigas are still on the front, but Argos Shimano are sneaking up beside them.


Approaching the red kite and Liquigas are keeping the pace high but everyone is still there.


Riders are trying to push on, but nobody can get away as the pace is too high.


Orica GreenEdge are workiing for Allen Davis behind Sky.


The peloton are moving at over 50km/h as they race towards the finish with Sky still driving on the front.


All our breakaways are now back in the bunch and the serious business can being.


Lagutin (Vacansoleil) has decided to continue on but the bunch are hunting him down.


Heading past the finish line for the penultimate time we are almost all together and Sky are coming towards the front ot try and get Ben Swift into a position for a stage win.


The leaders are slowly being reeled in now and have just seven seconds again.


As we cross the finish line with two laps remaining the bunch has become a bit less compact and teams are starting to try and get in position for the finale. Argos Shimano in particular are taking control of things at the front. Our leaders are still 20 seconds clear.


Just three laps remaining now for the riders and the leading sextet are just being allowed to dangle off the front of the bunch. They have no real advantage, but having them there means there will be no other attacks so the peloton will be happy to leave them there.


Aramendia (Caja Rural) has been ever present in the breaks during this Vuelta while Seeldrayers (Astana) was in the break yesterday. The break have 13 seconds and are just being kept in the sights of the bunch behind.


The speed for the second hour of racing has been clocked at 37km/h. A stroll for these guys.


Our six are still plugging away on the front, but possibly the sprinters teams will be happy to let them away for another while. Every rider in the peloton will be feeling tired and sore at this point and the less pulling on the front of the bunch they have to do the better. Peter Sagan took the sprint here last year with John Degenkolb in his wheel. Degenkolb would like to go one better this year, but it remains to be seen how much his Argos Shimano team have left to give.


On the fourth pass of the finish line the leaders took the intermediate sprint points. The first three were Astarloza, Carrasco and Seeldrayers.


The pace has sped up significantly but they are still not at full pelt. The six out front are working well together and making things difficult for the bunch behind.


The riders have completed their third lap of the finishing circuit and Movistar have taken over at the front of the peloton as they try to get Alejandro Valverde in a position to snatch the points classification win from Joaquin Rodriguez.


A group of six irders has formed off the front of the peloton. They are Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil), Kevin Seeldrayers (Astana), Sergio Carrasco (Andalucia), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) and Javier Chacon (Andalucia). They have a 10 second gap over the Agos Shimano led peloton.


The riders have crossed the finish line for the first time and the sprint points have been collected by Grischa Niermann (Rabobank) and David Moncoutie (Cofidis) who jumped away from the peloton. Moncoutie will retire after this race and is looking to go out on a high. He won't stay away for the win, but he will be cheered on for as long as he stays away.


The race has now entered the Spanish capital. Alberto Contador will receive the biggest cheer as he returns home with the leader's jersey on his back. For now he can soak up the atmosphere and take the plaudits from the adoring public, but in just under 5km we will pass the finish line for the first time and the racing will begin in earnest.


In other cycling news, Mark Cavendish has been speaking publicly about his wish to leave Team Sky. Speculation has been rife about the Manxman's future since it became apparent that sprint trains and stage wins at the Tour de France would not be a priority for Brailsford and his crew.


We will shortly be arriving in Madrid proper and though the riders are cruising now and enjoying themselves, they will all need to stay vigilant as the pace hots up.


It is 29 degrees on the road and the riders have just completed the first hour of racing with an average speed of 32.7km/h. Very sedate as you would expect. They are posing for photographs, chatting to friends and team mates, and one or two might be nursing slight hangovers.


Joaquin Rodriguez could take two jerseys home for his troubles, he is the leader in both the points and the combined categories. German John Degenkolb is the highest ranked sprinter in the points classification, but is too far in arrears to wrestle the jersey from Rodriguez. Valverde is within reach of this classification, but it is doubtful that either of them will score any points as the sprinters take over towards the end of today's stage.


The team classification will be won by Movistar. Alejandro Velverde's team have held the lead in this category for a large part of the race and have an advantage of 9'40" over their nearest rivals Euskaltel Euskadi. Movistar have two riders in the top ten with Valverde in second position and Benat Intxausti in tenth spot.


Clarke is only the second Australian to ever win a mountains classification jersey in a Grand Tour (Matthew Lloyd being the other in the 2012 Giro d'Italia), and he said after Stage 20, that he is less of a climber and more of an opportunist. "I was very nervous about trying to get into the break because it had been so difficult on other stages. Ultimately the strategy worked. I am not a climber, I'm an opportunist and I had to use every opportunity I could."


Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge) ensured he would wear the climber's blue and white polka dot jersey into Madrid today with a commanding performance in the mountains yesterday. Clarke was part of a large breakaway group which crested the first four climbs of the day ahead of the peloton. Clarke was first over the first three of these and doing so amassed enough points to ensure his nearest rivals couldn't take it from him on the penultimate day.


Today there are 175 riders remaining in the peloton. Yesterday we saw abandons from Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quick Step) and Assan Bazayev (Astana). Having done well to get as far as Stage 20 they will both be disappointed not to finish today, but that's professional racing. Martin will now turn his attention to the World Championships and specifically the time trial where he will start as one of the favourites.


Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Tinkoff Bank) will take to the top step of the podium later today with fellow Spaniards Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in second spot and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) in third. Yesterday's Stage 20 was the last chance for the top GC contenders to fight it out for victory, and despite attacks from Rodriguez and Valverde, neither could do enough to dislodge Contador.


The finishing circuit around Madrid is 5.7km long, will be tackled 10 times by the peloton and will more than likely see a bunch sprint. The circuit takes the riders around the Plaza de Cibeles and on to the Paseo del Prado. Plaza de Cibeles is better known as the spot where Real Madrid fans celebrate their team's successes, but today it will also play host to the podium presentations.


As is the case in Grand Tours, the General Classification should remain the same at the end of today's stage, and the riders will not begin to race until we reach Madrid after approximately 50km. The two sprint points on Stage 21 are at the eventual finish line and points will be up for grabs the first time the riders cross the line and also at the end of the fourth lap.


We are officially underway on the final stage of the 2012 edition of the Vuelta a Espana and as the riders roll along they are enjoying the plaudits of the crowds after three long weeks in the saddle.


The riders are just beginning their roll out through the neutralised section before the stage proper begins. Today will be about celebration and with a largely flat route, there won't be much racing in the first half of Stage 21 at least.


Welcome to LIVE coverage of Stage 21 of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana. Today will see the riders negotiate the 115km between Crecedilla and the finish line in Madrid.