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Vuelta a Espana

Five things we learned from the Vuelta

AFP discusses five takeaways from the season's final grand tour, the three-week race across Spain.

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MADRID (AFP) — Colombia’s Nairo Quintana edged out Tour de France winner Chris Froome to win the Vuelta a España on Sunday, with Esteban Chaves taking third.

AFP Sports looks at five things we learned from the grueling, three-week race around Spain.

Quintana finally outdoes Froome

For the first time in five grand tours when both have finished the race, Quintana (Movistar) bettered Froome (Sky) to prevent the Briton from becoming the first man in 38 years to achieve the Tour de France-Vuelta double.

A second grand tour win of his career salvaged a summer in which Quintana failed to challenge Froome in France despite sneaking onto the podium in third and then decided to skip the Olympics.

The Movistar rider was understandably fresher than Froome, but also showed a more daring side that sets up a fascinating showdown between the two for next year’s Tour de France.

Quintana’s surprise early attack along with Alberto Contador on stage 15 was a risk Movistar has often shunned to protect podium places or has taken too late in the race to make an impact, like when Quintana left Froome in his wake up Alpe d’Huez on the penultimate stage of the 2015 Tour.

The Vuelta may have become too brutal

Featuring 10 summit finishes and late starts in the searing Spanish summer heat, the desire to continuously ramp up the size of the challenge to almost the impossible may have reached a limit in this Vuelta.

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“Every day has been hard, I think I’ve never seen a grand tour as hard as this year’s Vuelta,” said American rider Tyler Farrar of his 15th grand tour.

Two stages in particular demonstrated the scale of the problem. On stage 14, the longest of the race at 213.4 kilometers, the peloton called a truce and virtually took a day off from racing. The favorites finished together just shy of 34 minutes behind stage winner Valerio Conti.

Two days later, more than half the remaining field was handed a pardon from race organizers and was allowed to continue in the race after finishing outside the time limit, 54 minutes behind the frontrunners.

Some were unperturbed, though, with Froome lauding the challenge of the Vuelta after finishing second for a third time.

“It’s the toughest race and I hope to come back in the future,” Froome said.

Contador’s grand tour wins may be behind him

Contador started the race looking for a record-tying fourth title on home soil after crashes forced him to retire early from the Tour de France.

However, not helped by a lack of support from his disbanding Tinkoff team, he never threatened Quintana and Froome and was even usurped by Chaves (Orica – BikeExchange) on the penultimate stage to lose his place on the podium.

There were flashes of the old magic, as he played a huge role in Quintana’s win. The pair worked together on a surprise early attack that blew stage 15 wide open. Yet he struggled to follow the top two in the mountains and lost nearly two minutes to Froome in the time trial.

A move to Trek – Segafredo may put him back in contention next year, but at 33 and having missed out on a grand tour win for the first time in three years, it would be a huge feat if Contador can add to his total of seven grand tour wins.

Sky is fallible

Sky’s dominance in winning the Tour de France four times in five years has built up an air of invincibility around the British team. However, a lack of planning may have cost Froome his shot at history. Caught cold by Quintana and Contador’s move on the short and sharp stage 15, Froome was unable to respond because he was left without a single teammate barely 20km into the stage.

After 2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski abandoned the race in the first week, all seven of Froome’s remaining teammates were among the more than 90 riders allowed to continue after missing the time limit.

Time trials holding Chaves back

Chaves claimed his second grand tour podium of the season by making up more than a minute on Contador on the penultimate stage with a brilliant attack 50km from the line.

However, whether the Colombian will ever be a grand tour winner depends on a major improvement in his time trialing ability.

Chaves lost out on the Giro d’Italia earlier this year by 52 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali, having ceded 1:35 to the Italian on a long individual time trial.

The Orica rider was passed by Froome just halfway through Friday’s 37km time trial, losing 3:13 to the Briton on the day when the overall difference between the two was just 2:45.