Cycling: Cavendish green jersey ends Britain's long wait

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Mark Cavendish claimed the Tour of Spain's points jersey yesterday, becoming the first Briton in 21 years to win the sprinters' title at a Grand Tour. The HTC-Columbia Manxman held on to the green jersey despite his American rival Tyler Farrar taking the final stage in Madrid.

The 85km (54-mile) 21st stage into the capital saw the Garmin-Transitions rider edge out runner-up Cavendish from what would have been his fourth stage win in this year's Vuelta, the race where Malcolm Elliott became the first Briton to claim a major sprint title in 1989.

Australia is the next destination for Cavendish, who won five stages at this year's Tour de France – which with the Vuelta and the Giro d'Italia make up the elite Grand Tours. On 3 October he will attempt to become the first Briton since Tom Simpson in 1965 to win the world road race championship and with it a year competing in the famous rainbow jersey.

Yesterday Cavendish gave himself too much ground to make up as Farrar burst through in the final 500 metres to claim his second stage win of the tour. Farrar had also been in contention to take the green jersey, but needed Cavendish to finish no higher than fifth as well as win himself. Second place meant the HTC-Columbia rider finished on 156 points, seven clear of his American rival.

The Italian Vincenzo Nibali won the general classification, finishing comfortably in the peloton to seal his first major triumph. After conquering Spain at the age of 25, Nibali is widely predicted to become the next Giro d'Italia champion in his homeland. Yesterday's victory was the biggest in the Sicilian's career and marked another stepping stone for the Liquigas-Doimo rider, who was third in this year's Giro and seventh in the 2009 Tour de France.

"Ever since the race began I always said that I was here to win and that's what I did," Nibali said. "I've had a great race and with the help of all the team I've succeeded but it wasn't at all easy.

"Everybody said I was the biggest threat of all the foreign riders, but that hasn't been extra pressure. I've had great form and that was really all that mattered."

After a switch to his current team, Liquigas, in 2006, Nibali seemed set for a career in the Classic races, taking his first big professional win in one of France's top one-day races, the GP Ouest France, that year.

However, top-20 places in his first two Giro races, in 2007 and 2008, as well as 20th overall in his debut in the 2008 Tour de France, convinced Nibali he should focus on stage racing as well.

Nibali, who was the leader for two days after Spain's Igor Anton crashed and abandoned, was then ousted from the top spot in this year's Vuelta by the Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez after the Italian suffered badly on the summit finish of Cotobello. However, Nibali took a firm grip on the overall classification on stage 17's time-trial through the vineyards of Penafiel, where Spain's Ezequiel Mosquera replaced Rodriguez as his main challenger.

Mosquera attacked on Saturday's final climb to Bola del Mundo but Nibali was able to claw his way back into contention by the finish and keep the overall lead.

"I had to settle for second but I've never been on the podium of a major tour before so that's a pretty big achievement in itself," Mosquera said. "This has been a very stressful experience so I'm just glad it's all over."

After Nibali's compatriot Ivan Basso won the Giro in May, the Vuelta is Liquigas-Doimo's second major stage-race victory of the year. The King of the Mountains title was taken for a third consecutive year by David Moncoutie of France.