Marc Soler reconciles personal ambition with team duty
For all his burgeoning talent, Marc Soler has in the past struggled to reconcile his personal ambition with the duty towards his team.
Until today, perhaps the most famous moment of his career was a demonstration of that frustration at last year’s Vuelta a España. Leading stage nine with less than 5km left to ride, Soler responded with fury when instructed by Movistar to drop back and help his team leader Nairo Quintana, who had attacked further down the road. Throwing his arms up in the air in frustration and shaking his head in indignation, it was a very public display of dissent, and one the Spaniard had to apologise for afterwards.
Today, however, Soler managed to do both a sterling job for his team as well as attain personal glory. It was his pace-setting that reduced the peloton to just a small handful of riders, dropping some potentially dangerous GC riders for his leaders Enric Mas and Alejandro Valverde.
Then, his work having been done, Soler was let off the leash, and attacked on the descent to the finish.
It was a very impressive ride, and one that at last saw Soler claim a career-first Grand Tour stage victory he believed he was destined for that day last year.
Movistar outperform Jumbo-Visma
After such a dominant display in yesterday’s opening stage, it seemed as though the Vuelta was detained to follow the same pattern as the Tour de France, with Jumbo-Visma dominating proceedings with their legion of quality climbers.
However, today Movistar made a major statement, challenging the Jumbo-Visma hegemony by taking control in the peloton, and ultimately outperforming them.
As a Spanish team, this race matters to Movistar more than most, and they almost always bring their a-game. Today’s stage was especially important to them, too, what with it being held in the team’s home region of Navarre.
The riders rose to the occasion, with Soler, Enric Mas and Alejandro Valverde all riding the final climb together in the select group of favourites, outnumbering Jumbo-Visma by three riders to two.
That’s a promising sign heading into the rest of the Vuelta, and an early indication perhaps that they will be the team to beat. Having dominated stage races throughout the season, Jumbo-Visma might finally have met their match.
Tom Dumoulin drops out of contention
Despite being dropped on yesterday’s finishing climb, you might still have considered Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) to be a contender for the overall classification. In his typically level-headed way, the Dutchman rode at his own pace on the climb, and reached the finish 51 seconds behind his victorious team-mate Primož Roglič — a fair amount of time, sure, but not enough to rule out one of the best Grand Tour riders of his generation.
Today, however, the damage was far more serious. Dumoulin was dropped early on the San Miguel de Aralar when the peloton was still thirty riders strong, and showed no signs of being able to recover.
By the finish, he had lost eight minutes, and any hopes of a high GC finish were over.
Having stated his desire to make the podium at the start of the race, this will come as a major disappointment to Dumoulin. After spending so much time off the saddle last year following his abandonment of the Giro, he had at last begun to look something like his best at the Tour de France, but now appears to still be fatigued from his efforts defending the yellow jersey for Primož Roglič at that race.
This season won’t therefore see the return of Dumoulin as a Grand Tour contender, but he still has a job to do to again help Roglič try and win a Grand Tour.
The GC race takes shape
We’re only two days into the Vuelta a España, but already the GC is taking a clear shape, with the same riders who were up there on yesterday’s mountain top finish at Alto de Arrate once again
Seven riders are now separated by 26 seconds at the top of the classification, and already have some daylight over the rest (Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett is eighth, 56 seconds down). Roglič leads, and his star teammate Sepp Kuss remains another potential card to play at seventh overall, 26 seconds.
Both Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) continued their excellent start with another faultless performance, although, given their history of fading away deeper into Grand Tours, still have a long way to go if they’re to prove to be overall contenders this time around.
As a former Grand Tour winner, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), who is third, has very strong credentials, while Enric Mas has both the team support (from the dominant Movistar) and history (he was second overall in 2018) to improve upon his current position of fifth overall.
Finally, the surprise package so far has been Britain’s Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), who today once again stuck with the main favourites and as a result climbs to sixth overall. At this rate, the 26-year-old is on course to better his career-best Grand Tour overall finish of 11th-place — although there is, of course, a very long way to go to Madrid.
Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers make surprise attack
On stages like this, when the most difficult climb is the final climb and there isn’t much to write home about before then, the pattern of racing is usually very predictable — the riders will preserve as much energy as possible all day, before going all out on the final climb.
But today, Movistar threw the conventional rulebook out the window, and attacked on an exposed section of roads halfway into the stage to try to use the windy conditions to cause splits in the peloton.
None of their major GC rivals were caught out, but the move did disrupt the expected rhythm of the stage, and set things up for more surprise attacks — most notably, from Ineos Grenadiers and their main GC contender Richard Carapaz.
33km from the finish, with the peloton having been considerably reduced by Movistar’s efforts, Carapaz shot out of the front with teammate Andrey Amador, to the surprise of everyone.
With the final climb approaching it was difficult to see what they were hoping to gain from the move, and indeed they were caught a few kilometres later as soon as the climbing began.
It was the kind of move you expect to see in the final week of a Grand Tour, when the favourites are running out of both ideas and time to make up ground on their rivals, but not as early as the second stage. With such a hilly opening week, perhaps we can expect more of such unconventional action in the days to come.