Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) refused to take questions from the crowds of Spanish media who were eager to hear from the nation’s next great hope about his fall from the podium positions on the penultimate mountain stage of the Vuelta a España. When he did finally talk, fulfilling his duties in the media mixed zone as the race’s best young rider, he had managed to see some positives.
“I’m going to sleep easier tonight, being in fourth place two days from the end, rather than sleeping on third place,” he said.
That might seem counter-intuitive, but in a way the 23-year-old rising star feels liberated. Fourth place would still represent a fine result in only his second Grand Tour, but now that he’s off the provisional podium he feels he has nothing to defend and nothing to lose.
“I will attack tomorrow,” he insisted.
Mas denied that he was suffering as Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) disappeared up the final climb of the Coll de la Rabassa, with Kruijswijk finishing 39 seconds ahead to usurp him from the podium.
Instead, aware that 10 kilometres was a long way out for Yates to make his move – and three kilometres further out in Kruijswijk’s case – he assumed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), the only riders in the chase group with teammates, would take responsibility. But the response was slow to come. Richard Carapaz and Nairo Quintana tried but failed to close the gap for Valverde, while Pello Bilbao did next to no chasing for Lopez, who put in a couple of attacks in the final kilometre or so.
“I waited with Movistar and Astana, but they didn’t respond as I was expecting,” Mas sighed. “I misjudged it. That’s how it is.”
He was particularly unimpressed with López, who started and finished the day one place behind him at 14 seconds.
“He spent the whole stage on my wheel. If he wants to put the 14 seconds into me he’s not going to be able to do it riding like that. If you want to fight for the podium you have to fight well.”
Mas is known as ‘the next Alberto Contador’, having been appointed as such by the man himself, and there’s every suggestion he might emulate El Pistolero and throw caution to the wind on Saturday’s short but brutal final mountain stage.
“Anything can happen,” Mas said. “There’s one day left and it’s sort of like a time trial. The terrain is there for anything to happen.”
Mas will sleep well tonight but, clearly feeling he has more to give at this Vuelta, he’ll be straight up with the alarm.