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GUILIN, CHINA - OCTOBER 21: Enric Mas Nicolau of...

Mas reminds everyone he’s Spain’s next big thing

After bubbling below the surface all season, Mas secures a season-closing win to carry much-needed momentum in 2020

OK, it was “just” the Tour of Guangxi, but a win is a win, and even more so when it’s a race on the WorldTour. For Enric Mas, it counted for even more.

With his overall title Tuesday at the WorldTour season-closer, the 24-year-old Spaniard reminded everyone he is Spain’s next big thing.

“To win Guangxi, my last race with the ‘Wolfpack,’ is something I’ll never forget,” Mas said. “I am proud to have won my first overall title of my career, and to say goodbye in the best possible way to this fantastic team that believed in me and gave me the opportunity to turn professional three years ago.”

With that finish-line quote, Mas summed up perfectly where he is in his professional trajectory.

Three years ago, the Spaniard made the leap to the WorldTour, another product of the now-defunct U23 team, Klein Constantania. Mas, who hails from Spain’s Mallorca island, is the latest in the long list of riders who’ve gone on to WorldTour success out of the legendary development program.

Flash-foward to 2019, and Mas closes out his third and final season with Deceuninck-Quick-Step with his first stage-race overall title. Hailed as a savior of Spanish cycling already two years ago, with none other than Alberto Contador picking him as his most likely successor, Mas backed up the hype last year, winning a stage and finishing second overall at the Vuelta a España in just his second grand tour start.

Enric Mas, Miguel Angel Lopez
Mas pipped Miguel Angel Lopez to win stage 20 of the 2018 Vuelta. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

This season, Mas was building toward his Tour de France debut, earning a string of consistent results all spring on what was a slow-cooker for July. After bubbling into the top-5 following the Pau time trial, Mas unexpectedly went off the rails when the race hit the Pyrénées. With teammate Julian Alaphilippe lighting up the Tour, many expected Mas to hold steady and perhaps even challenge for the final podium. Instead, he couldn’t hang in the deep mountains, and rolled into Paris 22nd overall. Not a bad debut, but short of what he expected.

So winning in China, even if it was the season-closer against a field already thinking about the beach, still meant a lot to Mas.

Set to join Movistar next year as one of its top riders, Mas will carry momentum into the off-season in what will be the next chapter of his development.

“I learned so much on this team, who allowed me to progress and find my place in the peloton,” Mas said. “This win wouldn’t have been possible without the help from extraordinary teammates.”

Swapping Deceuninck-Quick-Step for Movistar in a three-year deal for Mas has many layers. At the “Wolfpack,” he was one of many. At Movistar, he will be trying to fill some very big shoes.

Mas will transition into a much high-profile role next season, when he will try to fill the void left by exiting riders Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Richard Carapaz.

Mas, along with Marc Soler, is viewed as the future of Spanish cycling. He has the right skillset, and excels both in the time trials and in the mountains. Some say he’s more Indurain than Contador. With a calm demeanor and hard work ethic, Mas has been showing steady progression to reach this moment. Despite the hype, Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué said the team will not pile on the pressure.

Mas will team up with countryman Marc Soler to provide a youthful edge to Movistar’s new-look GC challenge. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“He’s a young rider who has progressed very well, and we hope he will keep progressing,” Unzué said during the Vuelta a España after Mas’s move was confirmed. “We will not put pressure on him. We have Alejandro [Valverde] who is a guarantee in any race, and that will allow riders like Mas to continue to improve naturally.”

Mas will feel the heat. Not only will have the responsibility to lead the team, but Movistar is Spain’s top squad and only WorldTour team, with pedigree reaching back to the golden era of Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain. All of Spain’s top riders — Contador excepted — passed through the Movistar franchise at one point or another. Now it’s Mas’s turn.

With his exodus of stars, Unzué was keen to sign a rider to secure the future of the franchise. With Mas, Unzué believes he’s found the ideal candidate.

“He is part of this new generation of riders who is taking over the peloton, and that’s good for this team, too,” he said. “We’ve had great riders who have been with us, but it’s always the young riders that bring energy to everyone in an organization. Now with riders like Mas and Soler, we can build for the future.”

The 2020 racing season will be one of transition, both for Mas and Movistar. Mas takes on the role as outright team captain, while Movistar looks to turn the page on the Quintana era. Movistar has been the most consistent grand tour team behind Ineos/Sky over the past decade. By signing Mas for three seasons, Unzué is hoping to lay the groundwork for the next decade of the team’s long, already four-decade-long history.

No pressure there for Mas.