Spanish WorldTour team Movistar turned in a strong collective performance in the Vuelta a España’s first summit finish at Picón Blanco to place three riders in the top 10 on GC, with local star Enric Mas leading the charge.
Mas had the honour, too, of being the only rider in the GC battle to gain time on top favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) on the stage, albeit with a short-lived attack in the last kilometre that allowed the Spaniard to regain a scant three seconds overall.
Arguably more impressive was how 41-year-old teammate Alejandro Valverde upped the pace in the closing moments of the stage, prior to Mas darting away in the finale.
Fifth on the stage, Mas has moved up seven places, to fifth at 45 seconds, and is now only 15 seconds down on Roglič. Miguel Angel López has gained 10 spots, and is in sixth while even Valverde, who had said as a pre-race he had no GC expectations this year, is currently lying seventh.
Movistar have yet to prove they are able to challenge Roglič and the other top names like Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) in a direct duel. But as an all-round performance and as Mas himself stated, Picón Blanco showed that they are clearly in fine form.
“This climb has proved that the team can perform really well on ascents like this,” Mas said afterwards, “and that those of us who are going to fight for the overall for the team are in good shape. It’s a boost to our confidence.
“Valverde never stops surprising us, you could see that from how he performed today at the end and in my own case I could gain a few seconds. Not many, but they’re valuable.”
Mas admitted that it would be have been ideal to go for the stage win, but that at such an early point in the race, that would only have been possible if the peloton had reached the foot of the climb at a minute or less on the break. With three minutes between the bunch and the break at the start of Picón Blanco, that was no longer an option.
Riding more conservatively, López said that his own objective on the stage “had been not to lose time, and I managed that. I felt good and that’s positive. Now we need to go for more."
Movistar’s muscular performance on the Picón Blanco has also enabled the team to put some poor collective memories of the previous time the climb was used as summit finish behind them.
Back in 2020 in the Vuelta a Burgos stage finish on the Picón Blanco, Movistar fell apart completely, with Valverde their best placed rider at two minutes and Mas losing over eight minutes to stage winner Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep). This time round, two years on, it was another story altogether.
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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