|Jarama Circuit, final start line of the 2011 Vuelta
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After yesterday's 185km journey from Bilbao to Vitoria, today is the short (95.6km), flat and partially ceremonial final run into Madrid and the winner's podium, thus ending the 66th Vuelta a España - the last of the 2011 Grand Tours. What a classic it's been: the organisers pulled out all the stops this year in an effort to ensure their race would no longer be considered the boring cousin to the Tour and Giro, making it one of the most challenging events we've seen in many years. We've seen many of a very beautiful country's most beautiful places and we've seen some of the most testing landscapes. We've seen riders abandoning due to the sheer difficulty of the parcours, we've seen relative unknowns ride through the pack and score incredible victories. Chapeau to Unipublic - viva la Vuelta!
|Madrid's Royal Palace and Catedral de la Almudena (CC3.0)
|La Plaza de Cibeles hosts the finish of the Vuelta (CC2.0)
We don't really need to include much of a history of Madrid here and it'd be practically impossible to do without running into many thousands of words: the city is a world capital, home to 3.25 million people and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Instead, here are a few facts (and if you subsequently win your local pub quiz, you owe us a pint):
|Despite Spain's recent financial crisis, Madrid remains an
important centre of banking, technology and trade (CC3.0)
The city has put in a bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
The Museo del Prado on the Paseo del Prado has a collection of art considered by some experts to be the finest ever assembled. As a result, it's one of the most visited museums in the world. It houses 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, 8,200 drawings and a vast collection of historical documents. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a short walk from the Prado, contains one of the world's most famous and dramatic works of art - Picasso's Guernica.
Madrid is around 300km from the coast. However, it still has a beach - the man-made Urban Beach on the banks of the Manzanares River.
The oldest church in the city is San Nicolas de los Servitas. The 13th Century bell tower is believed to have originally been the minaret of a Moorish mosque.
|CaixaForum, Madrid's most unusual building (and our favourite) (CC2.0)
Perhaps the most unusual structure in Madrid, the bizarre and fascinating CaixaForum art gallery can be found near the Paseo del Prado. The ground floor is glass-walled, open and modern. The first and second floors are a far older industrial building, the internal walls removed to form an airy open space. The third and fourth floors are made from rusted steel plates, contrasting with a wall of living plants standing next to the gallery.
It's been the capital of Spain since the 17th Century.
Whilst regular readers will be well aware of our views on bullfighting, Madrid's Museo Taurino is worth a visit to see the costume worn by the famous matador Manolete as he attempted to kill his fifth bull in a single day. However, that time the bull got the upper hand and gored him to death. Hurrah!
Tourists tend to assume Madrid is hot and sunny all year round. It's one of the sunniest places in Europe with approximately 250 clear days per annum, but due to its altitude it can become very cold in winter and snow isn't unknown. The record low was -10C.
In 2010, Madrid's population was 3,273,049. They're joined by around six million tourists each year.
Now, how in the world are Unipublic going to top this in 2012...?
Predictions: With no change in the GC leaders' placings at the end of Stage 20, Cobo and Froome remain separated by 13 seconds. Traditionally, race leads are not contested in the final stage of a Grand Tour - but that most definitely doesn't mean they can't be. Anything could happen today, all depending on the sort of race it turns out to be - will it be gentlemanly good sportsmanship or will we see pedal-to-the-metal, teeth-and-nails alleycat warfare?
Weather: Hot. Starting at a horrible 27C, it'll get even hotter as the stage progresses to reach 29 or 30C at the end. Winds will be very light to non-existent - headwinds for the first half and crosswinds for the remainder, but not strong enough to make any difference. Once again, no rain is expected anywhere along the parcours and it should remain sunny throughout.