Enric Mas shines on Vuelta a España stage six
David De La Cruz fights hard to limit the damages after crashing on the final climb.
On paper, Thursday should have been a quiet day at the Vuelta a España, but if there's one thing history has taught us, is that there's no such thing as a calm day at the season's third and final Grand Tour. Five climbs were jammed on the course which travelled from Vila-real to Sagunt, and on the third of these Bob Jungels attacked together with Maxime Monfort (Lotto-Soudal), opening a gap of one minute, which they carried until the first slopes of Puerto del Oronet, where the other escapees bridged across.
But it was on the final climb – Alto del Garbi (9.6km, 5.1%) – that stage six properly unraveled, once Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) attacked on the double-digit gradients and forced a reaction from the other contenders. At the same time, Enric clipped off the front of the leading group, a brave action to which only a few riders could respond, and pressed on, ensuring that the newly-formed group maintained a one-minute gap with 30 kilometers to go.
The final part of the stage was run on a flat terrain, and the chasers came close of catching the trio, which would have happened if Mas wouldn't have had one last dig which saw him, Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto-Soudal) extend their lead to 40 seconds as they approached the last ten kilometers. The trio exchanged turns at the front and despite a late surge from the red jersey group, they defied the odds and battled out for the victory in Sagunt.
Quick-Step Floors' neo-pro led out the sprint and finished in a remarkable third, a brakethrough result for a rider who 12 months ago was still in the amateur ranks. Only 22 years of age, Enric Mas has long been touted as a future Grand Tour contenders, and his feat on this sweltering day during which he displayed maturity, resilience and attacking panache, proved he's a champion in the making.
"We went full gas from the start of the stage. It was really crazy and really tough, but I kept pushing and believing in our chances. I felt good on the climbs, so I attacked on the last ascent of the day to see what the others can do, but also to increase our gap on the chasers, which we heard we're coming back on us pretty fast", said Enric Mas after his first World Tour podium.
The Mallorcan was rewarded for his effort with the most aggressive rider prize, and even though he couldn't shrug off the disappointment of having lost the victory, he insisted on remaining upbeat: "I know that being a neo-pro and getting onto the podium of a Grand Tour stage it's good result, but I'd lie if I would say I'm not disappointed on missing out on the win; on the other hand, I am happy with how I rode and felt, which is encouraging. This stage showed me that I'm in a good condition and I hope I can still show something in the next two weeks."
David De La Cruz – best placed Quick-Step Floors in the general classification – was dropped twice on Alto del Garbi, but each time he managed to return to the favourites' group, and what made it even more impressive the second time was that it happened after he crashed and lost crucial seconds before remounting and continuing the race. Fortunately, by the end of the day, with the help of green jersey Matteo Trentin, David conceded only 17 seconds on the other GC contenders, which now puts him into sixth overall, less than a minute behind the race leader.
"It was a hard day. When Alberto Contador accelerated, I responded, but then I hit the ground after touching Barguil's wheel. I managed to come back, but having spent so much energy took its toll on me on the downhill. Fortunately, with 15 kilometers to go, we were joined by a group in which I could find Matteo, who rode his heart out for me, and I'm very grateful for that. It's a pity I lost some time today, but on the plus side the legs are good, which is important for the upcoming stages. Hopefully, tomorrow I will feel good and have a quieter day in the saddle", said David, the best Spaniard in the overall rankings.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele