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Vuelta a Espana

Enric Mas stands tall in first GC scrum at Vuelta a España

Movistar's Alejandro Valverde is backing Mas: 'To finish third here today is a sign that he’s feeling strong.'

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LAGUARDIA, Spain (VN) — Enric Mas matched the GC fireworks in Tuesday’s uphill finale at the Vuelta a España in an important test for the Spanish rider who’s under pressure to deliver following a disappointing Tour de France.

Mas kicked to third on stage 4 behind Primož Roglič to dispel some of the doubts about his form after he exited the Tour with COVID-19 last month. Mas was among only 12 riders who finished in the front group as the Vuelta returned to Spanish roads.

“I was really suffering. It was an explosive finale, and the team rode like a ’10’ to put me in a good position,” Mas said. “The final descent was very fast, of which we’ll see more of during this Vuelta. I’m slowly getting better at them. In the end, only Roglič and Pedersen were better than me, so I have to be happy with that. Let’s see what happens.”

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Mas has been under pressure from Spanish media, and even his own Movistar team boss Eusebio Unzué, who have questioned his ability to deal with the stress and responsibilities that come with leadership.

After pulling out of the Tour, Mas insisted on racing the Vuelta on his terms. He starts with GC ambitions but knows he might burn out before Madrid.

Valverde: ‘I hope to have better sensations’

Teammate Alejandro Valverde was also in the mix, but worked for Mas rather than try for the stage win in just the type of steep, explosive finales that typically suit him.

Now in his final Vuelta, Valverde says Tuesday’s flares were just the start of what he expects to be a thrilling Vuelta.

Valverde vows to stand by Mas throughout this Vuelta after many selected Mas as the rider to carry on with Spain’s legacy.

“The sensations are great, especially after seeing how well Enric performed,” Valverde said. “He’s feeling good, he’s motivated, and to finish third here today is a sign that he’s feeling strong.

“I wasn’t with him at the Tour so I don’t know how he was doing either physically or mentally, but here I am seeing him very motivated, excited, and also calm. When someone is going well like he is now, there’s no advice needed.

“I hope we can keep going like this, because the team was racing at the front, protecting Enric as well as me,” he said. “I couldn’t manage it today because I didn’t have the legs like I would have liked. I hope to be getting closer.”

Spanish fans are banking on it.