All of Spain is abuzz following the breakthrough performance of Enric Mas during the Vuelta a España.
Mas’s second overall with a stage victory in the final week is pulsing through the Spanish cycling community, which is hungry for a new star to cheer for.
“Spanish cycling can dare to dream with him,” said Alberto Contador, the retired star who said Mas could be Spain’s next big thing. “He really stepped up and he did it in his style of attacking, which is something the fans really love.”
It’s not what the 23-year-old Mas did but how he did it that is reverberating. In just his second grand tour start, Mas put his stamp on this Vuelta with aggressive racing and strong character that has many in Spain hoping they’ve found a star to give fans and media someone to root for.
“This Vuelta only motivates me for the future,” Mas said. “I never thought I could do so well when we left Málaga, but by the third week, I started to believe.”
Thousands turned out this week to cheer on Mas on a homecoming to his village of Artá on the Spanish island of Mallorca. He now trains and lives in Andorra and is a product of Fundación Contador, a development team founded by Contador who hailed Mas as his natural heir last year.
Mas caught the eye of Joxean Fernández Matxin, now a director at UAE-Emirates who worked for years as a talent scout for Quick-Step Floors. In 2016, Mas joined the Belgian outfit’s Klein Constantia development team, which at the time included current WorldTour pros Ivan Cortina (Bahrain-Merida), Nuno Bico (Movistar), Remi Cavagna, Jhonathan Naváez and Max Schachmann (Quick-Step). Mas was impressive enough to get a bump to the WorldTour team in 2017.
After a solid rookie season, he won a stage at this year’s Vuelta al País Vasco where he finished an encouraging sixth overall in what’s considered the most demanding one-week stage race on the calendar. After riding to fourth overall at the Tour de Suisse, he only raced four days before the Vuelta started.
“I really didn’t know how I would go,” Mas said. “I felt better and better as the race unfolded. I had no pressure and I could make my own race.”
Even more impressive about how Mas rode to second was that he did it without much of a team around him. Quick-Step brought half the team to help sprinter Elia Viviani, who delivered with three stage victories. Pieter Serry and Laurens De Plus helped out where they could, but it was often Mas vs. the world when the pack hit the major climbs.
“I don’t know how well I could have done with a full team at my service because a lot can happen over three weeks,” Mas said. “This Vuelta only encourages me.”
Mas was hanging around the top 10 for the first two weeks and with some firepower ahead of him on the GC, no one really had him on the radar for a podium spot.
A strong time trial at Torrelavega in stage 16 pushed him into fifth. Mas revealed his character and attacking style in the final three mountain stages, which he capped by winning the penultimate stage across Andorra.
Quick-Step knows it has a diamond in the rough, but will the team step up and sign riders to support him? With such bounty in the classics and one-day racers — coupled with ongoing sponsorship questions — the team might not have room on the roster to build a parallel GC program.
“That responsibility motivates me,” Mas said. “I know I have to keep learning and keep working to improve everything.”
Mas’s rising star coincides with a Spanish peloton suddenly bereft of major stars. Only Alejandro Valverde remains active of Spain’s golden generation that included Contador, Carlos Sastre, Óscar Freire, and Joaquim Rodríguez.
There are some other young Spanish riders coming up and Mikel Landa (Movistar) seems poised for a breakout ride, but it’s Mas who is delivering the goods right now.
“I’d love to race the Tour, but I have time to speak with the directors and we can plan out the coming season,” Mas said. “It’s the first podium I’ve reached and I hope it’s not my last.”
Spain isn’t hoping it’s his last either.