There are a couple of riders who are always mentioned when mulling over the key favourites to win one of cycling’s three biggest stage races. Perhaps it’s a certain 24-year-old prodigy from UAE Team Emirates with a little tuft of hair sticking out of his white helmet? Or maybe it’s a former ski-jumper clad in the yellow and black of Jumbo-Visma? What about the Welsh 2018 Tour de France winner who is searching for another taste of glory in the twilight years of his career? Or the plucky, confident 22-year-old who is the newly-crowned World Champion?
Whoever might spring to mind, for some reason, it’s rarely the tall, gangly figure of Enric Mas, Movistar’s current greatest hope to stand on the top step of a Grand Tour podium next season. Mas never has the top bill on a list of favourites, despite finishing second in the Vuelta a España in 2018, and for the last two years, and his commendable fifth place in the Tour de France in 2020, but why?
Maybe it’s that he, for so long, has ridden in the shadow cast by the figure of Alejandro Valverde, the Grand Tour veteran who right until his retirement at the end of 2022, served as Movistar’s star, their leading light, their main character. Or maybe it’s Mas’s demeanour: he’s quiet and unassuming, rarely making grand gestures to the camera or demanding the spotlight. The Spaniard can often merge into the background, making up the podium spots but not donning the red jersey, or the pink, or the yellow. In 2023, though, Mas plans to stand out.
Enric Mas climbing with Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič and Carlos Rodriguez on stage eight of the 2022 Vuelta a España (Image: Charly Lopez/ASO)
“I’m hungry to go one step further,” Mas says, speaking in his off-season. “I want to win one Grand Tour and I hope that I can be there in the Tour and the Vuelta, as well as at the beginning of the season.” Mas speaks with a fresh enthusiasm, seemingly keen to put across the seriousness of his ambitions. He looks back on 2022 with some level of satisfaction: second in his home Grand Tour is an impressive feat, yet Mas can still pinpoint moments in that Vuelta where he thinks he let the victory slip out of his grasp.
“Maybe I could have been better on Sierra Nevada,” he says, looking back on stage 15 of the race. This comment surprises me somewhat, it was on that day which Mas gained time on all of his rivals in the general classification, finishing second on the stage and 36…