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The Movistar Team took a lot of flak from critics on Friday when its riders chased down the late solo attack by their former teammate Richard Carapaz of INEOS Grenadiers. Maybe it was a rash reaction, but it showed that Spain’s top team—with Enric Mas, Miguel Ángel López, Alejandro Valverde and Imanol Erviti all riding in the group of GC favorites—had not given up on success at this 108th Tour de France. Maybe even a high final placing for Mas. That was good news for the race, because a week ago after stage 1 the Movistar riders’ chances were pretty much discounted when López was caught up in both mass pileups and lost a couple of minutes; Valverde was injured in the second crash and conceded over five minutes; and their much-vaunted teammate Marc Soler finished 24 minutes back and later had to quit because of his injuries.
By John Wilcockson
The courage shown by Soler last Saturday was immense. Forty-seven kilometers from the stage end, Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin collided with the cardboard sign held up by a spectator and crashed, causing his teammates Sepp Kuss and Mike Teunissen to also fall and start the chain reaction that brought down half the peloton. Soler said he was riding behind his teammates Mas, Erviti and Iván García Cortina—those three avoided crashing but Soler hit the fallen Teunissen, flew over his handlebars, somersaulted and landed at high speed on his hands. “They hurt a lot,” he said. “I also hit my face—my glasses broke—and my shoulder.”
As support staff ran from team cars to help crashed riders, a Movistar mechanic hauled up Soler by his armpits and propped him on a grassy bank before putting him on a spare bike. By that time, all the other riders had departed. The three fallen Jumbo-Visma men rode together to finish 16 minutes back, while Soler soldiered on with just the broom wagon for company. He said he “didn’t have the strength” to shift gears or brake; but he somehow made it up the final climb with its double-digit grades, even concerned that he wouldn’t make it to the line within the stage’s time limit—but that wouldn’t be a factor.
Because of Soler’s painful injuries to both arms, the team had to cut off his jersey and bibs with scissors before he was taken to the medical vehicle, where x-rays showed he had fractured both radial bones near the elbow along with a break in the right ulna bone. His brave 47-kilometer chase had been in vain. His disappearance from the Tour was a blow to Movistar. And, for Soler, it was a personal blow. Already this year he had to quit the Giro d’Italia, which he had started as the sole Movistar leader only to crash early on stage 12, just 4 kilometers out of Siena. That day in May, with an injured back, he rode on for 56 kilometers before giving in to the pain.
Commenting on his season, which did include a stage win at the Tour de Romandie, Soler said in his column for a Spanish newspaper that it was “a difficult year. The Giro [crash] annoyed me because I had prepared thoroughly and had a great opportunity. But this one in the Tour is even worse…. All the preparation in the trash.” And these latest injuries will prevent him starting the year’s third grand tour, the Vuelta. Soler was once regarded as Spain’s next great rider. He won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2015 [like Tour winners Pogačar and Egan Bernal in their U23 careers] and in his first pro season, teammate Valverde predicted “this boy will be able to win whatever he likes, even three-week Tours.” Now 27, Soler has yet to fulfill that promise. He has class and plenty of courage, but fate is a cruel enemy in professional bike racing.
The Tour’s Lost Boys
The Tour’s Lost Boys: Three riders were forced to abandon the race on stage 1: German Jasha Sütterlin, a workhorse for Team DSM (severe contusion of his right wrist); Frenchman Cyril Lemoine of B&B Hotels-KTM (four broken ribs, cut behind the right ear and a collapsed lung); and Lithuanian Ignatus Konovalovas of Groupama-FDJ (concussion). Soler could not start stage 2 after bravely finishing stage 1 (with two fractured elbows). And three riders were forced to abandon the race on stage 3: Australian Jack Haig of Bahrain Victorious (broken collarbone); Dutchman Robert Gesink of Jumbo-Visma (concussion and broken collarbone); and Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Soudal (broken collarbone). As a result, prior to stage 8, the Tour’s 184-strong starting field had been reduced to 177.