SANT JULIÀ DE LÒRIA: Britain’s Simon Yates all but secured the Vuelta a España overall title on Saturday ahead of the final day ‘parade’ to Madrid, meaning British riders will have won all three of cycling’s Grand Tours this season.
The astonishing victory for the 26-year-old Mitchelton-Scott team rider is a form of redemption after he led the Giro d’Italia for two weeks in May, only to lose over 40 minutes on the 19th stage – vowing, however, to “come back stronger”.
His success follows that of Sky’s Chris Froome in the Giro in May while another member of the Sky team, Geraint Thomas, won the Tour de France in July.
Interviewed after the race, Yates said his virtually secured victory had not sunk in.
“I truly didn’t believe I could pull it off, especially after what happened at the Giro,” he said.
“I was nervous at the beginning of the stage; you just never know what can happen, a very ferocious day,” he said.
“But the team was fantastic, I had support until the very last moment with Adam,” he said of his twin brother who rides for the same team.
“British cycling has come a long way in ten years,” Yates told AFP.
“And I hope to continue this trend.”
Yates was third on the day in a short but mountainous run behind 20th stage winner Quick Step’s 23-year-old Enric Mas and Astana rider Miguel Ángel López, just 24, who climbed onto the podium in second and third place, one minute and 46 seconds and two minutes and four seconds off the Briton’s pace respectively.
“I could see them up ahead the whole time coming up the final kilometres, but I couldn’t get across the gap, so well done to them,” Yates told Eurosport after coming 23 seconds behind them on the stage.
The men who had been second and third, overnight Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde and Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk, both struggled on the final climb and fell to fifth and fourth respectively.
The disappointment in Spain at Valverde dropping from second to finish off the podium in what could be his final chance to win the Vuelta was made up for with the euphoria at the emergence of Mas, who was fourth in the Tour de Suisse this year.
“Of course it’s painful to drop from the podium at the last hurdle,” Valverde admitted.
“But when you give everything you can give you can’t ask more; my rivals were stronger,” he said.
Barring disaster in Madrid, Valverde will win the points title, and with no hills on Sunday’s stage, Lotto-Soudal rider Thomas De Gendt will take the climbers’ title.
French climber Thibaut Pinot, who won two mountain stages on this Vuelta, came sixth, Colombia’s Rigoberto Uránseventh and Movistar man Nairo Quintana, the pre-race favourite, finished eighth.
Yates took the overall lead on the Vuelta from the ninth stage, and while he gave it up for two days to Spanish outsider Jesús Herrada, was always in pole position to win from that time.