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Second overall and floating in the middle of a five-minute gap between first and third, Mas has four stages to make the move that will deliver on his promise as Spain’s new GC great.
Mas surged deep into the final of the climb to Monasterio de Tentudía on stage 17 on Wednesday but found the red jersey of rival Remco Evenepoel square in his rear-view mirror.
The Movistar captain vowed he’ll keep trying to ride the late-race wave that saw him snatch back a handful of seconds on Sunday in a late all-or-nothing blitz on GC glory.
“I have a good time on the third, fourth, and fifth rider,” Mas said Wednesday. “I don’t know what we’re going to do tomorrow, but we have good legs, we have good feelings, the atmosphere in the team is super-good – we have to do something.”
Mas rolled into stage 17 with a two-minute valley to vault. The overnight abandon of Primož Roglič left Movistar as Evenepoel’s number-one nemesis, and a three-minute gap over third-place Juan Ayuso give Mas room to maneuver.
“Today there was no gap, but there were good feelings for me and the team,” he said after the stage Wednesday. “We knew that the climb was good for Evenepoel but we had to try it to see what everyone was doing. And that’s how we’ll do it every day.”
Twice second at the Vuelta in 2018 and 2021 and with three more grand tour top-6s, Mas is one of the most consistent – but unexplosive – grand tour riders in the pack.
The steady grades of the race’s third week are far from Mas’ pure-climber playground.
Instead, the Spaniard will need to wield the GC savvy and racing canny of a veteran Movistar crew against his inexperienced rival as the race rides into ambush territory in the rugged Extramadurra.
“He’s a super rider, we know he doesn’t have experience of the third week, but I don’t know…. I don’t know how to say,” Mas said as he either struggled to translate, or just plain played poker.
A tough multi-mountain stage Thursday and a parcours promising pandemonium on Saturday are Mas’ best chances to reel back two minutes and score that elusive Vuelta victory for Spain.
Evenepoel marked Mas’ every move before he stamped his authority on his Spanish rival by motoring him to the line Wednesday. And did Mas see any weakness as time ticks against him?
“Ach, of course. [Laughs]”
A laugh of conspiracy or a laugh of dejection? We’ll find out in the next few days.