While Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) had his first tough day on the Vuelta a España at La Pandera and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) simultaneously his best stage to date, Enric Mas (Movistar) continued to maintain a more or less stable level of performance and remained in third overall.
Sixth at the finish line, while most of the attention centred on the reemerging Roglič and struggling Evenepoel, Mas had an eventful stage himself. Most crucially, though, he was still present in the race leader’s group when Roglič attacked at 3.5 kilometres from the line on stage 14.
Subsequently able to drop Evenepoel, Mas then regained contact with Roglič and settled in behind the Slovenian. But in the final kilometres as Roglič and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana-Qazaqstan) upped the pace, Mas once again began to struggle.
“I felt really good right up to that last part of the climb,” Mas said afterwards. “First I let Primož go, then I closed the gap, but as soon as I got up to his back wheel again, I really felt terrible.
“I’ve no idea what happened to me, but I had to ease back considerably, otherwise I don’t know how I’d have got to the finish.
“Maybe I went in too hard, maybe I pushed too many Watts…you learn from your mistakes.”
Mas also said that he had misread the climb profile at the end of the stage “when Primož made me suffer,” and that he had not expected to have to tackle the ultra-steep 15% segments of the climb so soon. Another lesson learned, then, although he recognised that the seconds lost on Roglič were “very important. But that’s cycling.”
Regarding the two riders ahead of him on GC, Roglič and Evenepoel, Mas hinted that the Belgian might have had such a tough stage because of his lack of Grand Tour experience and his youth, and “every rider like that can have difficult days.” Roglič, on the other hand, was likely only to get stronger.
“If it’s true that Primož was, as he says, off the bike for two weeks after the Tour, he’ll get better because when your body recovers well, the form can improve,” Mas argued.
“He’s showing he’s on the way up and tomorrow [Sunday] he’ll be a rider to follow closely.”
As for the head of the Movistar team, Eusebio Unzue, the veteran manager played down Evenepoel’s moment of weakness, pointing out that the Belgian’s crash two days ago could be having a short-term effect.
Yet even so, rather than go along with what was previously a generalized opinion that the race was over bar the shouting, following stage 14, Unzue was much more non-committal, saying the Vuelta GC battle “remained open for four or five riders and tomorrow is a key day.”
Overall, even if Roglič has opened up more of a gap on the rider running third in the podium battle, following his uneven Saturday in the sierras, Mas described himself as “happy, because we’ve gained time on the leader.”
But having come into the Vuelta determined not to be tied to a particular result, despite his steady consolidation of a provisional podium place and backup from a team that has looked on point on the climbs, Mas refused to to do more than hint at a possible offensive at Sierra Nevada on Sunday.
“Sunday will be a very hard day, twice as hard as today, so we’ll see what we have to do, be it attack or defend,” he said simply.
“I will go into the stage aiming to enjoy myself and hopefully I’ll be able to see if any of the other [GC] riders are ‘ticklish.’”