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Vuelta a Espana

Contador says Enric Mas is Spain’s ‘next big thing’

Who will take the mantle as Spain's cycling star when Alberto Contador retires? El Pistolero says Enric Mas is the man to watch.

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CARAVACA DE LA CRUZ, Spain (VN) — Enric Mas stepped out of the Quick-Step bus Tuesday morning to find a small gaggle of journalists waiting for him.

Why? On Monday’s rest day, the soon-to-be-retired Alberto Contador singled out the 22-year-old promising all-rounder as the rider who could the next big thing in Spanish cycling.

“Those are nice words, but that is a lot of pressure,” Mas said. “I don’t like to have that kind of pressure, but I will keep working to try to be the best I can.”

The Quick-Step rookie is already impressing in his grand tour debut. He was third in stage 6, and has been working to support compatriot David de la Cruz in the GC.

A winner of two U23 stage races last season, Mas has the right profile when it comes to stage racing. Some see him as a future grand tour rider. He’s a solid climber who can time trial well. In August, he rode to second overall at the Vuelta a Burgos behind Mikel Landa (Sky).

With Joaquim Rodríguez already retired and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) nursing a career-threatening injury, Spain needs new young riders.

“We don’t want to put too much pressure on him yet,” said Quick-Step sport director Rik Van Slyke. “We have to see what he is good at, and see what he is not good at, and then work on that. For sure, he has big potential.”

The 5-foot-10, 134lb Mas raced on Contador’s junior development before joining Klein Constantia, Quick-Step’s development team, last year.

Contador said he’s impressed with Mas’s potential.

“I believe he will leave his mark in the next generation,” Contador said. “I don’t like to put anyone under pressure, but if I have to say one name, I would say Enric Mas. He’s perfect for three-week tours. He’s light, young, technically very good, with the capacity to recover.”

Mas is part of a new generation of young Spanish riders who are making their presence known. Riders like Landa and David de la Cruz (joining Sky in 2018) are already at the elite level of the peloton, but there will be a big hole missing in Spanish cycling with the retirement of Contador.

Marc Soler and Rubén Fernández, both former winners of the Tour de l’Avenir, join Mas as potential shining lights for the future.

“Right now, I am still learning. Maybe in next year’s Vuelta I can try something more serious in GC,” said Mas, 65th overall after Tuesday. “There is only one Alberto. I am still a young rider. If I could do just a bit of he managed in his career, I’d be happy.”