The young Spaniard came close to his third top 10 overall in as many events this season, after another day of full-gas racing.
A relentless up and down course awaited the riders still left in the race at the start of the sixth and final Vuelta al Pais Vasco stage, a short 118.2km-long one dotted by six classified climbs: San Miguel, Kalbario, Elkorrieta, Azurki, Karakate and Asension, the last one topping with under 15 kilometers to go.
One hour into the race, 18 riders plugged away, Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Dries Devenyns being among those to open a 1:30 gap over the peloton, which meant business on Saturday and as such, rode at an infernal pace, blowing the races to pieces on the double-digit gradients of the day’s fourth climb and bringing back the escapees.
Enric Mas – who still wasn’t at his best due to the crashes in which he had been involved earlier in the week – found himself in the third group, but the Vuelta al Pais Vasco stage winner didn’t give up and hurtled down the descent, rejoining the first chasers with 60 kilometers remaining.
The quintet that went away on the Azurki ascent was from where the stage winner emerged, but only in the final kilometers despite some previous skirmishes between the five, and it was Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) who soloed to the victory, while Ion Izagirre (Astana) wrapped up the general classification.
A small hill averaging 10% was the last hurdle standing between the riders and the finish line in Eibar, and there Enric Mas upped the pace and distanced several of his companions in the second group, a strong effort that came at the end of one of the season’s toughest days of racing, for which the 24-year-old Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider was rewarded with another strong result in a World Tour event – 11th overall – having previously finished 9th last month at the Volta a Catalunya.
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