Enric Mas (Movistar) enjoyed what was arguably his strongest day yet at the Vuelta a España after he ripped away from the other GC contenders on the final approach road to the Sierra Nevada summit finish.
Mas was second on the line at stage 15 after forming a shaky alliance with earlier breakaway and former teammate Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Qazaqstan). His surging attack on the flattest segment of the climb has considerably strengthened his grip on the third place overall ahead of closest rivals Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers), who both struggled.
Equally after an uneven performance on Saturday’s ascent to La Pandera, Mas has chipped away at the advantage of the two riders ahead of him on GC, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), who ceded 21 seconds and race leader Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) who lost 36 seconds.
Mas' attack allowed him to latch onto a two-up move by Lopez, briefly supported by the Colombian’s teammate David De La Cruz.
However, once De La Cruz faded, the subsequent collaboration between Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez did not seem totally fluid. And some media were quick to drag up Lopez’ dramatic exit from the Vuelta, and ultimately Movistar, on its second last day last year, following an increasingly tense team co-leadership with Mas.
While there was one unconfirmed report of Lopez volubly demanding the two work together on their Sierra Nevada breakaway, Mas' collaboration, such as it was, certainly came too late to ensure Lopez could fight for the stage win, taken by Thymen Arensman (DSM).
Lopez himself played down any suggestion of any outstanding issues when he was asked by Colombian media if it had been “important” to be in a break with Mas. “We’re all in the fight together,” he replied without going into more detail.
While not referring to the events of last year’s Vuelta, Mas admitted that their collaboration had not been ideal. As he put it, “mine and Lopez' interests did not overlap [because] I wanted the overall and he wanted the stage, but at the same time I wanted to work with him to gain time.
“Maybe we both kept things back a little because we thought the other one was actually stronger. Cycling’s like that, sometimes you have to be clever about it.”
Mas also played it smart on the lower slopes of Sierra Nevada and the brutally steep segment of Hazallanas, where he was caught out by a crash and started the climb a little behind.
But rather than panic, Mas said “I took things steadily and went on at my own pace, could get back to the other leaders and finally I dropped them. [So] I’m happy.”
As for taking second at the line ahead of all the other GC favourites, Mas relativized his success by saying “they’re a few seconds in our favour. The important thing is that I’m pleased with how I felt.
“I’ve always said that I’ll take things on the day by day and we have to go on dreaming all the way to Madrid. I’m still working on the problems I had a while back, which won’t disappear overnight. But I’m enjoying the race and feeling more confident.”
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