Enric Mas came into the 2021 Vuelta a España officially as co-leader of Movistar, but suddenly now finds himself the most convincing challenger standing against Primož Roglič.
All three Movistar leaders - Mas, Miguel Ángel López, and Alejandro Valverde - started the race brilliantly, holding the spots directly behind the race favourite, Roglič (Jumbo-Visma). But while Valverde crashed out, Mas started to flourish with López performing well too.
But it is now clear that Mas is the main rival of Roglič as the race heads into the final two weeks of the Grand Tour.
Speaking after stage 11, where he came second behind Roglič, Mas said: "The best shape of my career? I think so - Roglič, along with Pogačar and not many other riders, is the reference. To be able to compete with him in the Vuelta means a lot to me.
"The team continues to do well. I keep saying it's a big loss not to have Alejandro [Valverde] and Johan [Jacobs] with us anymore, but this great team has - and I have this feeling every day - an opportunity to do great things in this race."
There are plenty of huge mountain days to come in this monstrously hard Vuelta, with lots of these days stacked into the first part of the final week. But Roglič is clearly in his pomp at the Vuelta yet again and it would take a mistake or a very bad day from him to lose red to Mas.
The red jersey currently sits on the shoulders of Norwegian rider Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) with Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) in second, while Roglič is effectively the leader in waiting in third place.
Mas was asked about his collision with Roglič on the final climb of stage 11 but he said it was simply a racing incident: "He didn't see me coming and I couldn't brake there because otherwise he would have caught me a few meters. It was either a collision or braking. When I saw him after the finish, he apologised. Our relationship is good."
The 12th day of the Vuelta looks perfect for a breakaway, but, the way this race is going, the battle from Jaén to Córdoba over the very hilly 175km route could see some battles out of the GC group too.
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