Two months after exiting the Tour de France with a leg fracture, Alberto Contador rebounded in style by winning his sixth grand tour title after protecting his lead on the 21st and final stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday.
The Tinkoff-Saxo rider won his home race for a third time, to go with two Tour de France victories and one Giro d'Italia title.
"This is a dream come true for me to win my third Vuelta. I didn't expect it," Contador said.
Contador entered the concluding 9.7-kilometer (6-mile) individual time trial with a healthy lead of 1 minute, 37 seconds over fellow former Tour de France winner Chris Froome and focused on avoiding any slips on the rain-slick streets.
Adriano Malori of Italy won the stage, taking advantage of his early start under dry conditions before a shower burst over the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela.
Froome, who also entered the race after injuries forced him to withdraw from the Tour, finished the race runner-up for the second time, 1 minute, 10 seconds behind Contador.
Former winner Alejandro Valverde completed the podium, 1:50 off the pace.
Contador's first grand tour win was at the Giro in 2008, the same year he won the Vuelta for the first time. He won the Vuelta a second time in 2012.
The 31-year-old Spaniard won the Tour in 2007 and 2009, but was stripped of a third Tour win 2010 for doping. He has now won two major titles since then, both at the Vuelta.
Contador had concentrated on reclaiming the Tour this year, but his plans were dashed when he fell during its 10th stage and fractured his right shin on July 15. He withdrew and soon after said that he wouldn't be in shape to ride in the Vuelta either.
But a week before the race started Contador announced he had been training for 10 days without pain and had decided to compete in the final grand tour of the year. Even so, Contador said he had ruled on fighting for the win.
"In these two months I have had many emotional ups and downs, some days I was hopeful and others not, but I didn't want to finish the season with a fall," Contador said. "When I fell in the Tour I thought I would make it, but everything started to go wrong and I even thought that it was over. A month ago I didn't think about winning."
Froome also entered the Vuelta looking to bounce back from his early exit from the Tour after injuring his hands following a series of spills. The British rider for team Sky fought Contador until the penultimate stage, when the Spaniard withstood his attacks before surging forward to win at the demanding Puerto de Ancares summit. This was the second time Froome finished runner-up after losing to Juan Jose Cobo in 2011.
At the start, both former Tour winners were considered to likely be chasing the fully fit and rested Nairo Quintana, but this year's Giro winner crashed out during the 11th stage. And Contador emerged as the leader after riding strong in the preceding time trial as well as in the mountains.
The final stage was held in Santiago instead of the traditional finish in Madrid. The finish line was in the square in front of Santiago's cathedral, the end point of the Way of St. James, "El Camino de Santiago," pilgrimage trail.
Contador was given the traditional pilgrims cape, hat and staff on the podium, which he sportingly put on for the crowd.