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Juan Jose Cobo wins Spanish Vuelta

Updated: September 11, 2011, 13:38

MADRID (AP) Juan Jose Cobo of Spain won the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday, protecting his 13-second lead over Britain's Christopher Froome during the traditional finish in the Spanish capital.

"Until the last moment I couldn't shout victory,'' Cobo said. "Now, I can breathe easy with all the tension gone and feel like the winner of the Vuelta.''

Cobo finished the 66th edition of the classic race in 84 hours, 59 minutes, 31 seconds. Froome's compatriot and Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins was third, 1:39 behind.

Slovak rider Peter Sagan edged the pack in a sprint to win the 21st and final stage, a 59-mile ride from the Circuito del Jarama race track to the city center in 2 hours, 20 minutes, 59 seconds. It was Sagan's third stage win of the event.

Dutch rider Bauke Mollema came in fourth overall, more than 2 minutes back, while defending champion Vicenzo Nibali of Italy settled for seventh, 4:31 behind.

The red leader's jersey passed between eight riders until Cobo took it from Wiggins in a grueling 15th stage that finished at the fog-shrouded mountain pass of Alto De L'Angliru in the northern region of Asturias.

The Kenyan-born Froome's biggest challenge to Cobo came two days later when the two riders had a back-and-forth uphill battle to the Pena Cabarga peak. Froome won the stage, but Cobo clung to his slim overall lead.

Looking back on that duel, Cobo said "I thought I had lost the lead, and thanks to the fans I had the energy to hold on to it.''

The 30-year-old Cobo then withstood Froome's repeated attacks during the final week to claim his first major race victory.

Neither Cobo nor Froome entered the three-week race as favorites. Cobo was supposed to support his Geox teammates Carlos Sastre and two-time winner Denis Menchov, while the 26-year-old Froome came with the mission of helping Wiggins.

Cobo's only previous win was the Basque Country Vuelta in 2007.

This year's edition featured two stages in the Basque country after a 33-year absence due to political unrest related to separatist group ETA, whose 40-year-long bloody campaign for independence has left more than 800 people dead. ETA's announcement of a cease-fire last January opened the way to the race's return to the northern Spanish region.

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