MADRID: Belgian rider Remco Evenepoel claimed his first Grand Tour victory with a landmark Vuelta a Espana triumph on Sunday in Madrid. The 22-year-old dominated the three-week race, taking victory after the 21st and final stage won by Colombian Juan Sebastian Molano. Quick Step rider Evenepoel is the first Belgian to win a Grand Tour since Johan De Muynck’s triumph in the Giro d’Italia in 1978. “It’s history for my team, for my country and for myself. We can be really proud of what we did the last three weeks,” Evenepoel said at the finish line. “It’s sinking in now, yesterday I already felt it, but it’s official now.” Behind Evenepoel, Spaniards rounded out the podium with Movistar’s Enric Mas second at 2min 05sec and 19-year-old Juan Ayuso of UAE Emirates third at 4min 57sec after 3,280km of racing. This was a career landmark for Evenepoel and concludes his comeback from a career-threatening fall into a ravine during the Tour of Lombardy in Italy two years ago. Having won every stage race he entered this season, Evenepoel took the Vuelta leader’s red jersey on stage six on a foggy mountaintop in Asturias. He tightened his grip on the race on stage 10, finishing 48sec ahead of key rival and defending champion Primoz Roglic, on a long individual time-trial to Valencia. Nursing his lead over the peaks and plains of Spain as the race moved though Andalusia, he survived a fall caused by a braking motorbike, suffering knocks, bruises and heavy grazing on stage 13. He then raced at his own speed, taking small losses of time before confirming his resurgent form by winning the queen stage at high altitude on day 18. Australian rider Ben O’Connor described Evenepoel as unbeatable, claiming he would have been “up there with Tadej (Pogacar) and Jonas (Vingegaard)” had he competed in this season’s Tour de France. Evenepoel also won the best under-25 rider’s white jersey. The King of the Mountains climbing points category was won by Richard Carapaz, who was racing in Ineos colours for the last time. The Ecuadorian, who is Olympic road race champion, won three stages here. Mads Pedersen of Denmark won the sprint points green jersey with a haul of 409 to Briton Fred Wright’s 186. Meanwhile, 42-year-old Alejandro Valverde of Spain bowed out of Grand Tour racing and was applauded around the first of the culminating laps racing ahead of the field. Only 134 of the original 184 registered riders completed the 21-day race, with around half of those 50 pulling out due to Covid-19.