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MADRID (VN) – UAE Team Emirates got the stage win it hoped for in the final stage of this year’s Vuelta a España, only with the rider it was least expecting.
Juan Sebastián Molano stole sprint victory from under the nose of his teammate Pascal Ackermann and green jersey Mads Pedersen in an outcome far from the bookies’ betting slip Sunday.
“In this moment I don’t believe it. I’m still trying to understand,” Molano said.
Molano towed his team’s top sprinter Ackermann toward the final of the Vuelta’s twilight stage through Madrid in what looked poised to be a perfect leadout.
Ackermann emerged from Molano’s wheel but never saw a clear horizon as the Colombian kept kicking and scored his nation’s first victory in the Vuelta’s iconic final stage.
“I started my start with three hundred meters to go, but I saw that they couldn’t pass me right away and then I kept going. I had good legs today, I looked to the left, Pedersen was coming, and I never thought to stop,” Molano said.
Molano sits toward the back of the UAE Emirates sprint stable. Ackermann and Fernando Gaviria get top billing when the team targets the bunch gallops, with Molano making for third-choice leader and go-to workhorse.
Molano raced through seven grand tours but only once saw his own chances in three week races when he made his debut with wildcard crew Manazana Postobon in 2017.
Since then, he charted an impressively consistent trajectory through the lower-tier but was often overlooked for the season’s biggest spectacles.
“I’m always been a leadout man,” he told the press. “Today I was doing my job.”
— La Vuelta (@lavuelta) September 11, 2022
The 27-year-old could barely express his emotion when he spoke after the stage. While Remco Evenepoel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) broke Belgium’s 44-year winless streak in three-week racing, Molano became Colombia’s first winner of the Vuelta’s iconic Madrid stage,
“You can’t imagine such happiness. I think of everything I’ve done to get there, all the efforts we do for this as athletes, cyclists, human beings, when we leave our families at home to go far away,” he said. “I’m very happy and grateful.”
There could be some interesting discussions on the UAE bus between Ackermann and Molano later Sunday.
In the meantime, the Colombian dedicated the stage to the teammate he “beat” for a career-topping victory.
“He’s as happy as if he’d had won,” Molano said of Ackermann, “He knows he can always count on me as the last man … I’m dedicating the victory to him and to my team.”