Two days after confirming his Vuelta a España GC bid in the time trial at Alicante, Enric Mas and Movistar made it clear at the Peñas Blancas summit finish on Thursday that they have both the strategies and the team strength to try to move his challenge forward.
The surging acceleration by the 27-year-old on the same ascent where teammate Alejandro Valverde scored a memorable solo victory in the 2016 Vuelta a Andalucia, left the front group reduced to just half a dozen riders, including all of the top five favourites.
But even if Mas’ move proved ineffective against race leader Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and the rest of the main GC contenders, the Spaniard’s testing of the waters was the culmination of what Evenepoel later called “a classic Movistar strategy”.
This, the Belgian explained, involved putting riders in an early break to support a later move from their GC contender in the bunch, which on Thursday saw Jose Joaquin Rojas and Nelson Oliveira both present in a 32-man breakaway before dropping back on Peñas Blancas to support their team leader Mas.
Yet if Evenepoel was closely observing Mas and Movistar’s strategy on stage 12, Mas denied later he was watching Evenepoel in particular when he made his first full scale attack of the 2022 Vuelta. That was more of what he “wanted to see how everybody reacted when I went for it.”
“All the guys who could stay up there were riders who want to get on the podium and we have to watch them all,” he observed.
While he agreed that he had reached some conclusions for the much tougher mountain stages to come this weekend, but refused, with a smile, to share them with the media, Mas also was able to witness in person how Evenepoel responded with his own stiff acceleration in the final kilometre.
“We’ll have to get used to those,” he said, “That’s how he races and up to now it’s worked out very well.”
Mas was also courteous enough to stop after the stage and ask Remco how he was doing after his crash, although the evidence from the way Evenepoel rode on Peñas Blancas largely spoke for itself.
“We know he’s a tough one, and he didn’t show any weakness today,” Mas confirmed, “although it’s also true that the climb didn’t have any exceptionally tough sections.”
Sixteenth on the stage and third overall, even if Mas did not succeed in breaking any of these rivals, as he pointed out, he did not lose any time and this on a climb where the final four kilometres, “were harder than I expected.”
“Day by day,” he concluded, “the most important thing is that I keep on enjoying this.”