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Chris Froome pedalled further into the pantheon of cycling greats yesterday when he won the Vuelta a Espana.
Not only was it the first time that Froome has triumphed in Spain’s most prestigious event, but he is also the first British cyclist to win the race and only the third rider in history to take the Vuelta and the Tour de France titles in the same year.
The last man was Bernard Hinault in 1978, but the Frenchman had an easier itinerary (as did compatriot Jacques Anquetil, the other rider to do the double) because up until 1995 the Vuelta a Espana was in April, three months before the Tour de France.
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Froome’s achievement is all the more remarkable because he won his fourth Tour de France title just a few weeks ago, a victory he described at the time as “my toughest challenge yet”.
But despite the savage punishment he took in France, Froome - who finished second in the Vuelta in 2011, 2014 and 2016 - was able to summon up the stamina and will to win the Vuelta a Espana, all but clinching the title on Saturday’s penultimate 20th stage.
Prior to embarking on yesterday’s processional stage, which took the peloton 118km to a finish in Madrid, Froome reflected on what he has achieved in the last few weeks in Spain.
Calling the race “probably the toughest Grand Tour I’ve ever ridden”, the Briton added: “There was something different happening every day. I’ve had good days and then I’ve been lying on the ground, bleeding, thinking my race might be over.”
Yesterday’s final stage was won by Italian Matteo Trentin, with Froome easing home in 11th surrounded by his Team Sky teammates. The result meant he finished more than two minutes ahead of Vincenzo Nibali of Italy in the general classification, with Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin third.
Veteran Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador ended his notable career with a fifth-place finish, and the 34-year-old was duly accorded a rapturous lap of honour by his home crowd.
Froome, who led the race from stage three and endured broiling sun and freezing rain along the way, celebrated his historic win with a pizza, tweeting a photograph of the culinary delight along with the message: “Job done!”
Later, he told reporters what doing the Grand Tour double meant to him. “I’ve been trying for years and I’ve been second three times, so to win the Vuelta now is incredible,” he said.
“For me it certainly has been harder to win the Vuelta than the Tour. Up until now my focus has been 100% on the Tour de France and trying to survive the Vuelta, whereas this year the plan was to start the season later.
“Maybe I wasn’t quite at my top, top for the Tour de France, but it means I’ve been able to hold my form for longer and that has shown in this year’s Vuelta.”
If Froome wants to go down as history as arguably the greatest cyclist in history, his target may be to win an unprecedented three Grand Tours in the same year, by also claiming the Giro d’Italia title.
It’s never been done before, but such is Froome’s dominance that Hinault challenged the Briton to go for it.
“The three weeks’ rest between the Tour [de France] and the Vuelta give a rider the chance to win both,” said the Frenchman in The Times. “I even think it’s possible to win the three Grand Tours.”
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