Enric Mas rides onto Vuelta a España podium
The 23-year-old continues to impress at his home Grand Tour, where he forced the pace on Wednesday's final climb, being handsomely rewarded at the end of the day.
Vuelta a España returned to the Basque Country for a 157km-long stage which promised another major shake-up of the general classification and by the time the riders crossed the finish line atop Alto del Balcon de Bizkaia (7.3km, 9.7%) – a climb never before used in the race – fully delivered and Quick-Step Floors made sure of enjoying their spot in the sun, in the first part of the day with Pieter Serry, who featured in the break after attacking from the bunch as they rolled through the streets of Bilbao, and later with Enric Mas, the best young rider of the race.
The excruciating slopes of the final ascent severely reduced the peloton after only three kilometers, leaving just a handful of riders at the front, including the prodigious Mallorcan, who easily tamed the 17% ramps despite the high pace set by the team of the red jersey and responded when countryman Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) fired an attack under the red kite.
The pair broke clear in the thick fog and dropped everyone else on the stiff gradients of this lung-busting climb, gaining time on all the other general classification favourites by the moment they crossed the line some two and a half minutes behind Michael Woods (EF Education First), who took the victory from the breakaway.
After riding a textbook-perfect race on stage 17 and putting in another dazzling performance, just twenty-four hours from his astounding individual time trial in Torrelavega, the brave Enric Mas moved up in the general classification and is now third overall, a marvelous performance not many people saw coming three weeks ago, when La Vuelta kicked off from Malaga.
"Finishing in the top 3 would be a dream, but the goal remains the same, to take it day by day. I had good legs and could cope with the pace of the Yates brothers, who controlled things on Balcon de Bizkaia, and then with Alejandro's kick, and this only helps my confidence grow as we race towards the finale in Madrid", a smiling Enric said after the stage. "My teammates are fantastic, they help me as much as they can and I am satisfied of how things are going so far. Hopefully I will have the same level until we get to Madrid, on Sunday."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images