Enric Mas says that he and his rivals have "saved a very, very difficult day" after Primož Roglič re-took control of the Vuelta a España with a dominant display.
Mas put in another strong performance along with Movistar team-mate Miguel Ángel López as they limited their losses to Roglič to just 1-35 on the 'queen stage' of the Vuelta, which finished atop the brutal climb of Lagos de Covadonga.
López placed best as he took third on the stage behind Roglič and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), ceding 1-35 to the new race leader yet moving to third (at 3-11) in GC with Mas moving into second (at 2-22).
The duo found themselves more than a 1-30 behind Roglič as they began the final climb, after the defending champion had followed an attack by Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) with more than 61km to go.
Following the stage Mas said he did not expect Roglič to follow the move of Bernal so far from the finish.
"We have saved a very, very difficult day. A very demanding day - I personally did not expect that attack from Roglič," Mas said.
"He has proven to be very, very strong and we can only congratulate him, as we should.
"Apart from the fact that Primož has put a lot of time into us, although we cannot be excited with the result, both Miguel and I can be more or less happy. We are still there, the rest of the important men have arrived almost all together, we are again second and third in the general classification and we have dodged a really tough and important day."
López initially tried to get across to Egan Bernal and Roglič with 60km to go but decided to sit up as he didn't want to waste energy and he was confident Bernal would go too deep with so much distance to the finish line.
"At first I tried to go with Roglič and Bernal, but I did not make it to them," López explained.
"I decided that it was too far and that it was not worth continuing, because, as we have seen, Egan [Bernal] ended up paying for it in the end. If you are not sure, with the confidence to go, knowing that you have more than 40 km ahead of you, you can pay, even more knowing that tomorrow we have another important day."
Stage 18 is indeed another important day with the second brutal mountain stage of the final week with a hellishly steep final climb up the Altu d'El Gamoniteiru.
It is not the only climb of the day on the 162.6km route starting in the town of Rooms with three more ascents on the menu.
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