Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team (Spain) – Despite spending the entire day in the breakaway, the 23-year-old Spaniard held off all the opponents for his maiden pro victory.
Enric Mas became one of the youngest winners ever on Arrate, the iconic climb of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, after battling the inclement weather and a raging peloton all day long on the short and punchy stage 6 of the race, which featured eight categorized climbs for a total of 3000 meters of elevation. For Quick-Step Floors, this was the 25th victory of the season, the second-year pro Spaniard becoming the 11th different rider of the squad to earn a win in 2018.
"What can I say? I have always dreamt of winning this stage and now that I did it, I am happy, very happy to break the ice in this amazing race and in such a manner. The last climb was crazy, people were cheering for me, they were yelling my name and showing me their support, it was like being at a concert. It's a fantastic season for our team, we are on a roll and we hope to add many more victories to the ones scored so far."
Heavy rain and low temperatures accompanied the riders throughout the stage right from the start in Eibar and eased off a bit only in the final hour, when the escapees' group got fragmented on the Izua climb, as only a handful of riders were left at the front. With the gap dipping down to one minute, the bunch looked in pole position to fight for the win, but two solid attacks of Mas brought the front group back to life.
It was on the last of the eight ascents that Enric forged his unforgettable win in impressive fashion, as he accelerated from the breakaway and quickly gained 15 seconds on his former companions. From the yellow group, Movistar went to the attack, first with Nairo Quintana, and then with Mikel Landa, who began his pursuit of Mas. Arrate, which was climbed from the harder side, included sections of 15%, but Quick-Step Floors' rider was never in trouble, as he looked composed and got over the top with a 12-second advantage which he increased until the finish, shredding any doubt about who the day's winner will be.
"I had my eyes on this stage from the beginning of the week and after yesterday, where I felt really good but lost some time, I knew I wanted to try something. This morning, we decided that I should give it a go, so I joined the break. On the last climb, as I was riding alone, I heard in the radio that Landa and Quintana were chasing me, but remained confident and pushed really hard in the final two kilometers, gaining some more time and keeping the gap all the way to the finish", Mas said after the podium ceremony.
Saturday's victory helped Enric make a significant jump in the general classification, up to sixth, and also claim the blue jersey, for the best young rider of the race. Not only that it increased its advantage at the top of the World Tour team standings, but Quick-Step Floors leaves the 58th edition of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco also with three stage wins in the bag, just like in 2014.
Photo credit: ©David Ramos/ Getty Images.