Chris Horner (Radioshack-Leopard) became the first ever American winner of the Vuelta a Espana and the oldest winner in the history of the Spanish Grand Tour after a thrilling duel with Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
The official race results show that Horner beat Nibali to stand on the top step of the podium in Madrid but the three-week race was a tense head to head battle that was only decided in the final kilometres of the final mountain stage that finished at the top of the steep Angliru climb in northern Spain.
Before then Nibali and Horner both won stages as they fought for precious seconds and both spent time in the race leader's red jersey.
Nibali seemed set for victory after dominating the three mountain stages in the Pyrenees but Horner was stronger in the final week of the race and persistently chipped away at Nibali's lead before snatching the red jersey with just two stages remaining.
Nibali tried to fight back in the mist on the Angliru, attacking several times with a display of guts and determination. However Horner responded every time and eventually distanced the Italian and gained enough time to allow him to celebrate victory in Madrid on Sunday.
"To win the Vuelta is amazing. I hope people appreciate everything, how complicated it was to get to this level, not to get sick. So many factors have come together for me to win," Horner said.
"This is the hardest win of my career and I hope people appreciate the effort every rider has made in the race."
A celebration of great racing
The Vuelta will be remembered for Horner defying age and dominating his rivals but there was so much more to this year's race.
Nibali proved his pedigree by going close to victory in a second Grand Tour after winning the Giro d'Italia in May and Alejandro Valverde
(Movistar) confirmed his consistency with third place overall and the green points jersey. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was as aggressive as ever, winning a stage and finishing fourth overall, while Ireland's Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) also showed he has the determination and ability to be a Grand Tour contender by finishing fifth.
The success of French riders confirmed that a Renaissance is underway in the peloton. Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) took two spectacular stage victories thanks to his rare combination of class, determination, strength and tactical ability. Kenny Elissonde
(FDJ.fr) is still only 22 years old and so what right to get emotional about winning on the Angliru at the end of a very mountainous Vuelta.
Horner moves up in the UCI WorldTour rankings
Thanks to victory at the Vuelta, Horner now has a total of 257 UCI WorldTour rankings points. He rose from a lowly 81st place to 12th in the individual ranking. Horner scored points at the Tirreno-Adriatic stage race in March but was forced to take a long break in the summer due to an injury.
Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) still leads the individual rankings with 587 points. Rodriguez is second with 507 points and Nibali is third with 474 points. Team Sky still lead the UCI WorldTour team ranking, while Spain looks unbeatable in the nations ranking.
However the rankings will change again when the points from the Gran Prix of Quebec and Montreal are taken into account. We will only know the best rider, team and nation in professional cycling after the final UCI WorldTour races in October: Il Lombardia in Italy and then the Tour of Beijing in China.