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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Movistar keeps options open in early rounds

Movistar leaves opening salvo with all three of its 'gallos' still in the GC frame.

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Several teams came to the Vuelta a España with a multi-pronged attack, yet after only three stages, just one team is still in the mix with all its options intact — Movistar.

The Spanish WorldTour team emerged from Monday’s summit finale at Picón Blanco looking sharper than many of its rivals.

When the dust settled on the Vuelta’s first mountain-top finale, Movistar saw all three of its “gallos” moving into the top-30 on GC, less than 30 seconds behind Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).

“We saved the day,” said Miguel Ángel López. “The idea was not to lose time, and that’s what we did. [I had] good sensations, and that’s a good thing. Now for more.”

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It’s been an intense start to the 2021 Vuelta, and the wheels have already come off more than a few of the pre-race favorites.

Egan Bernal is quietly staying in the frame for Ineos Grenadiers, but Adam Yates was caught up behind a crash Sunday to lose 30 seconds, and then Olympic champion Richard Carapaz lost time Monday and was slapped with a 20-second penalty for an illegal feed.

Others struggled early, including Sepp Kuss, who tumbled out of the top-10 Monday to leave Jumbo-Visma with just one option behind two-time winner Roglič. Podium contenders Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) also have been slow out of the gate.

On Monday, Movistar confirmed that its three aces are here to race for the podium, and perhaps even more.

Enric Mas shot clear on the upper reaches to snag a few seconds’ advantage to the lead GC group in what was a morale boost for the Spanish star.

“This climb proved to us that, at least on stages like that, the team can deliver, and those of us on the team who are fighting for the GC that we’re going well,” Mas said. “It gave us a confidence boost today.”

Mas led the GC favorites, with López and Alejandro Valverde present in an elite group of seven.

Valverde, 41, lit up the action midway up the intense climb to put pressure on the team’s rivals and open the door for Mas’s late-stage acceleration. Headwinds foiled a bit of Mas’s progress, but it’s that kind of tactical play that could help Movistar in the coming weeks.

“‘Balica’ [Valverde] never ceases to surprise,” Mas said. “Everyone saw how he rode the finale, and that helped me gain a few seconds. Not a lot, but it’s good. He did a good job.”

Movistar leaves the opening weekend in good shape and the morale flying high, with its three leaders well-positioned in the GC.

With some transition stages coming up before the next round of climbing challenges waiting along Spain’s Mediterranean coast this weekend, watch for Movistar to try to dip into its bag of tricks if the winds kick up, especially Wednesday in stage 5 across the flats of Castilla y La Mancha, where the winds are known to kick up.