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The 2010 Vuelta a Espana: A year of many firsts

The 2010 Vuelta a España wrapped up Sunday with an thrilling sprint victory by Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) that capped what most agree is the most exciting and demanding Vuelta in years.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) gave the Vuelta its first Italian winner in 20 years in just one of many “firsts” during this year’s Spanish tour. Here are some of the highlights:

Nibali confirms:

2010 Vuelta a Espana, stage 21: Nibali celebrates
Nibali celebrates in Madrid

The 25-year-old Italian was the most consistent during the three-week battle from Sevilla to Madrid, never ceding too much time to the skinny Spanish mountain goats before taking the lead for good in the Peñafiel time trial. His first career grand tour victory confirms his status as a man for future success. Hot on the heels of his third place at the Giro d’Italia, Nibali will return to the Tour in 2011 with eyes on challenging Alberto Contador for overall victory. With solid credentials in both the climbs and time trial, coupled with his lethal descending skills, Nibali is Italy’s best Tour hope since Ivan Basso. “I said from the start that I came to this Vuelta to win, but it wasn’t easy. I have confirmed that I can perform well in a three-week grand tour. This year at the Giro I was third despite a few crashes, and last year, I was seventh at the Tour.”

Mosquera finally reaches podium

At 34, Ezequiel Mosquera earned the elusive stage victory and podium place that escaped him during the past few Vueltas. The veteran Spaniard confirmed he’s consistent enough in the mountains and time trials to be a legitimate threat over three weeks. He’ll likely land at a bigger team for 2011: “This is something that I am going to remember for all my life. When we arrived in Sevilla, I was hoping I could finish on the podium, it was something that I was working hard for during the past six months, during the past several years, really.

Velits, a Slovakian phenomenon:

Velits turned in a strong - and surprising - performance.
Velits's stage 17 time trial was key to his podium.

Peter Velits made history by becoming the first Slovakian to finish on a podium of a

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