The steep muro of Valdepeñas de Jaén proved startlingly effective at providing a snapshot of the Vuelta a España's general classification hierarchy on Wednesday for Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López and their battle with Primož Roglič.
In terms of Roglič and his overall domination of the race, the writing was truly on the Valdepeñas 'wall' again.
What was more curious, though, was that Mas, fourth overall, ran the Jumbo-Visma racer the closest on the stage finish, while López, fifth on GC, was a few seconds slower.
Equally, Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Adam Yates and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) were slightly distanced by the Movistar duo at Valdepeñas de Jaén. But all six riders remain the best-placed in the Vuelta's long-term GC battle.
On an uphill climb as hard as Valdepeñas, the gain from drafting is all but non-existent, but visually Mas almost seemed to give Roglič an unintentional leadout as he powered away, only to watch the Slovenian then jump past him for the line.
The 2018 Vuelta runner-up was visibly satisfied as he talked to reporters at the finish line about what he feels is "the best moment of my career so far."
Mas also had a graphic description of how it felt to climb up such a hard climb, saying, "forgive the expression, but when I took that last corner to the left at about 100 metres to go and I saw that fucking 'wall' my head went down and I thought 'ay, ay, ay…today's not going to be my day.'
"I must have seen the video of Purito [Spanish climber Joaquim Rodriguez] winning here 50 times, but I don't know what I actually saw. Either he was in the form of his life, or I was really on the limit."
Either way, a second place behind Roglič is nothing if not creditable, and Mas, who turned professional in 2017, confirmed he felt he was racing in his best form to date.
"Together with [Tadej] Pogačar [UAE Team Emirates] and only a few other riders, Roglič is the rider of reference in cycling right now and to be able to fight for a race like the Vuelta against him is the best thing that's happened to me in my career.
"The team is doing very well. We notice the absence of Alejandro [Valverde] and Johan [Jacobs] every day. But with the team we have, we feel we can go on fighting for this year's Vuelta."
"The finish wasn't as good for us as it could be for Roglic," Lòpez added, "but even so we were very close. Will he end up getting burn-out in the race? Possibly, but that could happen to us as well. For the moment, we've come through another day well and that's good news, too."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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