Fifth overall and best young rider of the race with three mountain top finishes left, the young Spaniard remains with his feet on the ground, despite the hype that is building up around him in his home country.
Cantabria, a lucky charm
The day of a time trial is always a stressful one, especially if you intent on doing well, as you build up tension during the day from the moment you wake up until you are finally on the start ramp, having completed your warm up.
On Tuesday, I had time for a proper breakfast in the morning before we took off to the circuit to do a recon, followed by a shower and lunch to fuel my energy level – and during all these hours, there was only one thing in my head: the time trial and the general classification.
I usually don't get nervous but yesterday was an important day and having that much time between waking up and the time trial gives you more time to get nervous. When that is said, I felt quite confident going into the task. Kasper, Laurens and I did a recon of the parcours on the rest day and realizing that it was a rather tough profile gave me a boost of confidence. Having a mental surplus often makes the difference in a discipline where the smallest detail matters.
I wasn't sure where I could finish but I knew I could pull something out of the hat on such a parcours, having more than 400 altitude metees. I am really pleased coming home in sixth best time with such a strong field of riders – a truly amazing feeling – but even more importantly, I gained a bit of time on the other GC contenders.
Maybe Cantabria is my lucky region of Spain. Six years ago, I became Spanish TT champion in Cantabria, not far from where we raced on Tuesday, and this memory was fresh in my mind as I was warming down in the afternoon for stage 16.
Still a long way to Madrid
As I said last Sunday atop Covadonga, I used to see these guys on TV and today I am racing against them. Many things can happen between here and Madrid and with several hard stages on the menu, I am hoping I can bring more than just good luck with me from Cantabria. Indeed, I need good legs in the final part of the race, but I will take it one day at a time, step by step.
Fortunately, I think I have learned a lot since last season. It was my first as a pro and you learn something new almost every day, especially during a Grand Tour, like La Vuelta, which I raced also in 2017. I remember coming into the race with a good confidence level, yet not knowing what I was capable of. I just wanted to enjoy myself and do my best. On stage 6 to Sagunto, I suddenly found myself in a three-man breakaway, which were to decide the stage. I guess I was lacking some experience compared to Marczynski and Poljanski, who took first and second, but being there in the final told me that I had what it takes.
When you do a race for the second time, your point of view is really different. Now I have a better feeling for when is the right moment to attack or follow and when it is to sit in the wheels to save some energy, for example. Obviously, I still have plenty to learn, I am only 23 years old and the road that lies ahead is a long one, but year by year, I am sure I will build on top of these experiences.
That being said, I am truly grateful to Quick-Step Floors for the confidence they put in me and the chances they give me, not just here, but also in other top races. It means the world to me to know they are by my side every day
I am super happy with how things have played out until now, especially since last Friday, and I am looking forward to discover what the final days of La Vuelta will bring. I think stage 17, which takes us to the tricky and tough terrain of the Basque Country, will already be another important day for the GC, but as I already underlined, the team believes in me and I know I can count on their support, which will be very important.
Sitting in fifth overall gives me huge joy and serves as confirmation of all the hard work I put in, but on the other hand I'm not letting myself get carried away by these past days' results. Nothing is decided yet and it will be a big battle until we reach Madrid on Sunday – and I am ready for it.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images