Another day of solidly aggressive racing for Movistar leader Enric Mas in the Vuelta a España at El Piornal saw the Spaniard finish second on a summit finish for the second time in less than a week, but he remain determinedly upbeat in the face of Remco Evenepoel’s demonstrations of climbing superiority.
Despite the stage’s remorselessly steady final ascent of El Piornal being one which Mas said did him no favours whatsoever, the Spaniard launched multiple attacks.
None of them worked out, and Evenepoel was able to distance Mas when it mattered the most, at the summit. But his determination to keep testing the water remains manifest and Mas, who remains second overall at 2:07, promised to “keep on trying to our last breath.”
“It’s a very positive situation,” said Mas told reporters at the finish line after a fraught final 10 kilometres where virtually all the top favourites tested the waters.
“This wasn’t a good climb for me, and with Remco looking so strong, I knew that all the attacks were not going to work out.
“But I’m still feeling pleased about how it went. We’re feeling confident about being so strong. And I’m getting my confidence back too on the descents, after two months in which you could see I was more nervous about them.”
After his abandon from the Tour de France this summer with COVID-19, Mas revealed he had been suffering mental ‘blocks’ when descending following a series downhill crashes. Although he has been working on that question since July with various experts, he deliberately kept expectations of how he would perform in the Vuelta very low prior to the race start in Holland.
Mas remained resolutely upbeat, too, about his chances of turning the tables in the Sierras of Madrid on Saturday, site the Vuelta’s last high mountain stage, and one which historically has provided some major upsets.
“I’m convinced with these legs that on that stage lots of things can still happen,” he argued. “And after today, more than ever, I feel as if we can go all out.
“I would have loved to get a stage win, above all for the team, because my teammates are firing on all cylinders, but we have to congratulate Remco because he was the strongest today.”
Mas also apologized to Robert Gesink for having wrecked the Dutchman’s hopes of a stage win after the Jumbo-Visma racer staged a long-distance attack that only collapsed within sight of the line as Evenepoel and Mas roared past him in the last 300 metres.
Mas did not rule out the possibility of attacking on Friday’s theoretically straightforward stage, a circuit that essentially consists of two-second category climbs and very fast descent to the finish in Talavera de la Reina.
“It’s one of those stages which can create differences,” Mas said. “And in general, we’ll keep on trying to our last breath.
“In the team, we are having a few difficult moments because of the whole question of UCI points, but we are getting a lot of support from the public and that gives us a huge morale boost. Right up until Sunday, anything could happen.”
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