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Movistar isn’t settling for the team prize at the Vuelta a España this year.
The Spanish team is poised in prime position to grasp hold of the red jersey in the next GC shake-up. While Odd Eiking has out-performed expectations in the defense of the red jersey, the Norwegian is still unlikely to keep the race lead all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
Primož Roglič is expected to be the recipient of the prized piece of kit when Eiking does relinquish it but the Movistar’s Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López are waiting in the wings to stop that happening. Mas is currently 35 seconds behind the Slovenian and López is 1:28.
“We have to be aware that we are here after the Tour de France, which was very hard, so we are not sure how we will be in the final week. What’s sure is that we have to try to win, either me or Miguel Ángel López,” Mas said Monday during Movistar’s rest day press conference.
“I cannot say if it’s going to be some epic big attack or something else, but what we can say is that we are going to try to win this Vuelta.”
Mas is on course for his equal-best grand tour result — after riding to second at the 2018 Vuelta a España — but he’s got his eyes set on the big prize. A rider who has often struggled with confidence in his own abilities, Mas says he’s not nervous about finding himself in the midst of a concerted battle for the red jersey.
“Quite the opposite, it gives me even more confidence and motivation to try to win this Vuelta,” Mas said.
Mas is currently the prime candidate to take it to Roglič with a much smaller gap to the Jumbo-Visma rider to overhaul, but Movistar will need to play all its cards if it wants to come out on top Sunday. With both Mas and López sitting so close together, Roglič cannot afford to let either of them go up the road and the team can use this to its advantage.
With Bahrain-Victorious and Ineos Grenadiers also looking to make up time lost, Mas hopes to capitalize on their efforts as well.
“Maybe on those first explosive finales Bernal wasn’t there, but Egan will be there in the final week. Not just him but also [Jack] Haig and [Adam] Yates, and they all have to attack to try to win or be on the podium,” he said. “We cannot say that we can benefit from it, but maybe we can all play our cards against Roglič, and we can all benefit.”
López is expecting a big fight, and for the fatigue to set in for some.
“These stages are going to blow up the race no matter what happens. After the two weeks of racing, that’s really going to count in the third week, especially in these brutal climbing stages. Even without attacking, the road is quickly going to put everyone in their place,” López said Monday.
“There will be more battle in this final week than we’ve seen in other Vueltas. There are some really hard stages still to come, and we’re all there still very close on the GC.”
Roglič getting weaker?
After Roglič gave away time to López and Ineos Grenadiers’ Adam Yates toward the end of last week, there have been questions as to whether he is a fading force. Roglič’s third-week slide has been a common theme in recent years and has guided his race program this year.
Mas is not yet convinced this is happening to the two-time defending champion.
“Sincerely, I haven’t seen him getting worse,” Mas said. “Maybe he’s not getting better, but he’s at a very high level. He’s one of the best riders in the world, and inside the peloton, we are not noticing him getting worse.”
With a time trial set to conclude the race, there are two key mountain stages that will have a heavy impact on the overall classification. The summit finish to Lagos de Covadonga on Wednesday and the Altu d’El Gamonteiru on Thursday will be hugely important, especially for those seeking to create a good buffer ahead of the TT.
López believes he or Mas need at least two minutes on Roglič to have a chance at red by the end of the week.
“To be there with the favorites, to play for the podium, you have to think about needing two minutes in the TT, because [Roglič] is the Olympic champion and he’s one of the best in the world. With these 30km, I think you’d need two minutes to defend yourself. It’s not a flat TT, but Roglič is so strong. Dor sure we will need an advantage if we want to win this Vuelta.”
And what about Eiking? Is there a chance that he could ride usurp the favorites and ride away with the win?
“We’re all thinking about him. We all thought he’d lose some time over the weekend, but yesterday we saw all the team working very good for him, and they controlled the race all day Sunday,” López said. “That shows that they’re motivated and strong, I cannot say how far he can go, we’ve never seen him in other races do much, but the leader’s jersey always gives you wings, so we’ll see.”