A day after he apologised to Spanish fans for failing to win on the Angliru, Enric Mas (Movistar) has promised he will try to bounce back in the GC fight for the Vuelta a España. But the 2018 runner-up argues that he will only have a clear idea of what he can achieve after Tuesday's time trial – not before.
While Alejandro Valverde is currently eighth, and forging onwards to his umpteenth top-10 place in a Grand Tour, and Marc Soler's gutsy long distance attack on stage 13 was then followed by a complete collapse on the Angliru, Mas is now Movistar's only realistic chance of a place on the podium.
He currently stands fifth at 1:50 behind race leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), and likely the most distant rider on the GC still in with any chance of winning this year's Vuelta.
But as Mas sees it, Carapaz and Primož Rolgič (Jumbo-Visma) are the only two favourites with cast-iron credentials for a podium finish in Madrid. Beyond that is anyone's guess – and that includes him.
"Tuesday's time trial is a power rider's course, and I think I can pull back time," Mas argued between sips of coffee during a rest-day press conference in Galicia on Monday. "But I would be lying if I told you that right now I see myself on the podium. Right now, I'm going to try to do what I can."
Repeatedly asked whether he could use the Planche des Belles Filles time-trial result at this year's Tour de France, at which he placed ninth, a long way ahead of key Vuelta rivals Carapaz, Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education First) as a reference point, Mas kept his feet firmly on the ground.
"I wish they were real references, but you have to be conscious that I was going for a top-five placing on GC, and the other three you mention [Carapaz, Martin and Carthy] were riding to get through the Tour at that point," he pointed out. "They weren't going flat out. I don't think those times will have anything to do with what we see tomorrow, although I'd sign up for them right now."
Even though this is a third-week time trial, where margins between racers, are, usually, never huge, Mas disagreed.
"I think it's a tough course, and it's the first, flat part, that will matter the most. You get two seconds a kilometre in 30 kilometres, that's a minute's advantage," he said.
"It's true that you've got the climb" – where uphill specialists could inflict some damage – "but I don't think it'll matter so much as the flat. People will take nine minutes, at most, to do it."
As for what he could, therefore, realistically hope for on Tuesday, Mas, contradicted his previous answer slightly: "I see myself moving up to second – or at least among the top three. But I have a lot of doubts. Roglič will almost certainly do a great TT. His numbers [power output data] were great even there [on the Planche des Belles Filles at the Tour]. But we have no idea how Richard, Dan Martin and Carthy will perform."
Regarding his apology after finishing third on Sunday's stage to the Alto de l'Angliru, Mas explained: "I apologised because the staff and teammates had done a perfect job and I couldn't finish it off."
After Tuesday's time trial, just four days of potential GC racing will remain, culminating with the climb to the Covatilla ski resort on Saturday.
But the Mallorcan rider and Alejandro Valverde, who also took part in the same press conference, were not convinced that the trio of stages between Ezaro on Tuesday and Covatilla on Saturday were hard enough to have an effect.
Both called them "decaffeinated" – lacking in punch – even though there are a minimum of 2,500 metres of vertical climbing in each and over 4,000 on Thursday's 230-kilometre slog across southern Galicia.
"It's not as hard a third week as we're used to," Valverde observed. "But, being November, the weather can have a big effect as well, particularly in this part of the world. Hopefully, Enric will be up there, and we'll have a chance."
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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