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Yates crosses the finish line on stage 20, knowing he has won the race

Britain’s Simon Yates will win a first Grand Tour after finishing third on the Vuelta a Espana’s penultimate stage.

Yates leads stage 20 winner Enric Mas by one minute 46 seconds with Sunday’s processional race to Madrid to come.

Tradition dictates the race leader is not attacked on the final stage so he just needs to cross the line to win.

Three different British riders will hold all three Grand Tour titles after Chris Froome won the Giro d’Italia and Geraint Thomas took the Tour de France.

And Yates’ victory will be the fifth Grand Tour triumph in a row for Britain after Froome also won last year’s Tour and Vuelta.

The 26-year-old Mitchelton-Scott rider came close to winning one of the sport’s three-week races in May when he led the Giro going into stage 19. However, he was undone by Froome’s stunning solo ride as the Team Sky rider won a sixth Grand Tour.

Fears of a repeat at the Vuelta were quickly quashed with Yates riding a more measured race throughout. He took the race lead when he finished ninth on stage nine but was comfortable in losing it on stage 12. He won it back by winning the 14th stage and then successfully defended it through the mountainous finish.

How stage 20 unfolded

Saturday’s stage featured six categorised climbs and more than 4,000m of ascending in a 97.5km race.

Yates was content to sit in the peloton in the early stages as a group of 15 riders broke clear, with Thomas de Gendt the chief aggressor as he picked up points in his successful quest to win the King of the Mountains jersey.

The first significant attacks came on the second ascent of the Coll de Beixalis with Miguel Angel Lopez, who started the day more than two minutes behind Yates, jumping clear.

However, Yates, who was being superbly paced by twin brother and team-mate Adam, refused to chase, preferring to climb at a more steady rate and all the favourites reached the summit together.

Nairo Quintana, the 2016 Vuelta champion, attacked on the descent and was joined by Lopez on the subsequent ascent of Coll de la Comella. However, the Colombians were unable to build a decisive lead and when Simon Yates attacked with 17km remaining, he was able to also drag Mas over to make a leading quartet.

Alejandro Valverde, who won this race in 2009 and was second going into Saturday’s stage, was unable to keep pace and ultimately lost his place on the podium, dropping to fifth overall.

Quintana dropped back to try pace his Movistar team-mate Valverde, leaving Yates, Mas and Lopez out front.

While Mas and Lopez realised the need to push on in an effort to secure a podium spot, Yates seemed content to let them go and ride his own tempo to the finish.

He crossed the finish line 23 seconds back after Mas beat Lopez to the line and also to second place overall.

Stage 20 result:

1. Enric Mas (Spa/Quick-Step Floors) 2hrs 59mins 30secs

2. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col/Astana Pro Team) same time

3. Simon Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott) +23secs

4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra/Groupama-FDJ) +54 secs

5. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale) +57 secs

6. Wilco Kelderman (Ned/Team Sunweb) +1min 11secs

7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned/LottoNL-Jumbo) +1min 15secs

8. David De la Cruz (Spa/Sky) +2mins 17secs

9. Nairo Quintana (Col/Movistar Team) +3mins 9secs

10. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar Team) +3mins 9secs

General classification:

1. Simon Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott) 79hrs 44mins 30secs

2. Enric Mas (Spa/Quick-Step Floors) +1min 46secs

3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col/Astana Pro Team) +2mins 4secs

4. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned/LottoNL-Jumbo) +2mins 54secs

5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar Team) +4mins 28secs

6. Thibaut Pinot (Fra/Groupama-FDJ) +5mins 57secs

7. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale) +6mins 7secs

8. Nairo Quintana (Col/Movistar Team) +6mins 51secs

9. Ion Izagirre (Spa/Bahrain-Merida) +11mins 9secs

10. Wilco Kelderman (Ned/Team Sunweb) +11mins 11secs

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