Marc Soler breaks Spanish Grand Tour curse
Prior to today’s Vuelta a España stage, the last Spanish rider to win a Grand Tour stage was Ion Izagirre, then of Astana, on the sixth day of the 2020 edition of the race.
Since then, 121 Grand Tour stages had played out with no Spanish glory, until Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) ended the drought, taking his first victory as a UAE Team Emirates rider in the process.
Having missed the initial breakaway, Soler fought hard to join up with the riders already up the road. He executed his race-winning blow with 16.4km to go, stretching out a gap on the final ascent of the Alto del Vivero that he would hold all the way to the finish in Bilbao.
Red red Rudy Molard
Fourth on the day was enough in the end for Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) to take hold of the race lead.
The Frenchman’s teammates rode intelligently for him in the break, with Jake Stewart attacking from range inside the last 25km - a move that meant that Molard could sit tight and relax in the bunch.
Though the stage win went to Soler, Molard seemed content to settle for fourth and the red jersey at the race in which he finished 14th back in 2018.
Out of the jersey, but still in control
Jumbo-Visma’s four-day reign in the red jersey came to an end on stage five, with Primož Roglič spending just one day with it on his shoulders. There’s no need to sound the alarms, though.
Ever-present at the front, the yellow of Jumbo-Visma guided the peloton through the Basque hills on stage five. Having decided those in the breakaway posed no threat to the overall, the Dutch team rode with little urgency throughout the stage, holding a steady pace and keeping an eye on the gap to the escapees.
From a Jumbo-Visma perspective, Molard’s red jersey is merely a loan. As long as they get it back before Madrid, the team won’t mind.
The kids are alright
Two stars of the day’s breakaway were British riders Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ) and Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), who now wears the white jersey as the best young rider at the race.
The duo, both in their early twenties, hail from the same cohort of British Cycling’s junior academy, and their friendship was on show in the Basque Country. Early in the race, Wright gave his compatriot a nudge and a smile as he came through to take his turn on the front of the pack.
Allegiances, however, were put to one side later on when Stewart attacked solo just before the final climb. Behind him, his former British Cycling teammate led the chase, orange helmet tilted into the wind and mind focused on the possibility of a red jersey.
The battle was a sight that almost certainly made their old national coaches smile back home.
A hot and intense day
The sun beat down on the Basque roads throughout the stage, with temperatures rising to 40 degrees in Bilbao.
Still, that didn’t stop the peloton from drilling a breakneck pace. In the first hour, the race’s average speed was over 51km/h.
It was no wonder then that the breakaway took so long to form on the day. Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) were among those who tried their luck to get up the road, but it wasn’t until 75km in that a move stuck.
Thursday’s stage will host a tough summit finish to the Pico Jano, where a breakaway is expected to form much earlier in the race.
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