Enric Mas has taken a big step in becoming the absolute leader of Movistar Team this year, and 2023 will likely be no exception. With the departure of Alejandro Valverde after many years, the Spanish team will rely on it's top climber to succeed the most in the coming year.
"We knew that I had ended the Tour in good shape, in inverted commas. I didn't know how COVID would hit me but fortunately I recovered well and found some of the best form of my life," he said in a recent interview with Cyclingnews, where he also discussed the fear he had gained of descents and how he worked through that to show his best side on the final months of the season.
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Mas was the closest competitor to Remco Evenepoel at the Vuelta a Espana and was not far from finally achieving his Grand Tour win. More impressive however perhaps was how he managed to keep his form the following month, storming to victory at the Giro dell'Emilia and riding to second place at Il Lombardia, both in direct competition with Tadej Pogacar.
"That gives me confidence for sure. I'm on the right path. Bit by bit I'm getting closer to them and one day I hope to be on their level. By working hard, and enjoying working hard. Every year I've grown a little more and I think I've got room for improvement," he continued.
"This year I felt my form was better than ever - not just when the results came, but the whole year. The numbers back that up, too With some more improvement, some more confidence, and a bit more experience, I think I can get there," he says. Although he won't have the support of ever-improving teams such as Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates, the Spaniard has understood that he can reach the same individual level.
Teammate José Joaquín Rojas has spent time with his teammate and helped him refocus after the Tour, into the Vuelta a Espana: "The form was very good but he needed to take a step back. With my 37 years of age, I tried to transmit some veteran's calm to him, above all encouraging him to take enjoyment in being on the bike. He's in love with the sport, like we all are, but maybe needed to lose the 100% pro cyclist focus for a while and enjoy riding, time with family, with friends."
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Psychology is extremely important within cycling, specially in Grand Tour riders who often spend months away from home and family in order to reach their very best level. Different methods work for different riders, and the veteran's advice seems to have worked for Mas who managed to drop his horrific first months of the year - filled with crashes and diseases.
"I think that when he really relaxed, that was when things started to turn around. He went to the Vuelta without pressure and there he was the Enric we all know and love - at his level, smiling, riding well," Rojas assured, also having finished the Vuelta with him and Alejandro Valverde who's hung up the wheels.
"Enric seemed a little serious at first, but I've roomed with him this year and he's a really extroverted character who makes jokes," Rojas revealed. "He's very direct when he wants something and is someone who says things to your face."
"With the results he had at the end of the year, he'll start next year with another mentality - the mentality that he can do incredible things," he concluded.