An interview with Mauricio Soler, November 8, 2007
Colombian riders have always been distinguished in the international peloton for their ability and skills in the big mountains. None of them were able to repeat what Lucho Herrera did in the 1985 Tour de France when he won two mountainous stages until Mauricio Soler appeared this year. Hernan Alvarez of Cyclingnews spoke with the rider who prevailed on the mythical Col du Galibier while in his first Tour de France.
On a sunny July day in the Alps, Mauricio Soler did the impossible – he won the Alpine stage nine to Briançon when nobody thought he could do it. The rider born in Ramiriqui surprised the world when he "attacked like loco" and stormed to his first Tour de France. The victory also paved the way for him taking – and winning – the maillot blanc à pois rouges of best climber.
12 days after his stage win, he was able to get the mountain jersey and wear it on the final day in Paris. One month later, he managed to win five-stage-long Vuelta a Burgos in Spain proving his consistency following the French Grand Tour. He took stage two of Burgos along with the overall maillot, which he held through the final stage.
"Colombian riders proved once again they are the very best in South America and they are among the very best in the world." - Mauricio Soler is the new generation of Colombian climbing stars
However, Soler's 2007 season wasn't all magic, and it ended with some health problems. After crashing in the Coppa Agostoni, Soler was afraid he had broken his elbow. But the injury turned out to be just a bruise. While the pain from the elbow lessened, it became clear that his wrist was more seriously injured than he had known, and he ended up having surgery on it to repair some torn cartilage. Finally, he had another surgery on his nose. Cyclingnews caught up with him in the days after the second operation.
Foremost in the mind of the promising Colombian was his health. "I am a bit better," explained Soler. He spoke with some difficulty as his nose was not completely recovered. "Today [October 27], they took out the stoppers I had in my nose and it seemed everything went alright. I am trying to recover; I already feel better today. Maybe in three days I hope to be almost completely recovered."
The 24 year-old attended the 2008 Tour de France unveiling in Paris on October 25. After this year's performance he will no longer be considered just an ordinary rider in the most important race in the world. "In Paris it [the presentation] was something very nice, something very different, very particular, very pleasant," Soler commented.
The 2008 Tour de France may be a great chance for him to shine again on French soil, considering it was designed especially favourable for climbers. "It is a different Tour from the others, especially if you compare it with this year's. It will be a Tour with no [time] bonuses. The time trial [the first one] will be a bit shorter and it [the parcours] will have very tough mountain stages. This will mean a lot for us, the climbers. I think it will be an advantage for us," said Soler knowing the conditions will suit the mountain specialists.
Soler was forced to call an early end to his 2007 season due to the two surgeries, which may mean a slow start to 2008. "For the remainder of this year, I won't practically take to the bike because I went into surgery for my right hand five weeks ago. They did a cartilage reconstruction microsurgery, and it takes time [to recover]. I think I have to wait until mid-December to start taking the bicycle."
Despite these problems, the 2007 season will be unforgettable for him. The great moments will always stay in his mind. "They are very pleasant memories that will always remain with me – [the day] I won on Col du Galibier and the day I finished the Tour, when I stepped in the podium in Champs-Élysées."
It was very special for Soler to become one of the classification winners in Paris. "For me, it represented everything because I achieved one of my greatest dreams, one of my greatest goals that I hoped for in my life. It was spectacular for me. This year's Tour was my greatest achievements."
Soler carried his momentum of success into the Vuelta a Burgos. He won the race over Spanish superstar Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), who ended up second in by only two scarce seconds. "It was a super big race! The truth is that I didn't expect to win it, but due to my fitness and the way I was riding... It was also a very big win for me. It was a race where I competed with one of the best riders [Valverde] and I was able to win it. This means a lot for me."
Considering his outstanding results throughout the year, Soler reckoned this year deserves a nine when asked to qualify the season on a scale of one to ten.
Keeping Colombia strong
Colombian riders proved once again they are the very best in South America and they are among the very best in the world. The nation will be able to have another push with the results. "I think that what we, Colombian riders, had done this year, and what others have done in the past has meant a lot because it enriches Colombian cycling. It is also gives a little bit more importance of this sport that is so beautiful to the people," expressed Soler.
Countryman Leonardo Duque has said that Soler will able to win the Vuelta a España in the future. "I think that with a good work, trying to improve day-in and day-out as we are doing it, if things go well, I think this could happen in two or three years. I think I am capable of that, and there is a chance," he continued.
Soler is part of Team Barloworld, which is a Professional Continental outfit that doesn't have the right to compete in every UCI ProTour race. "I feel very good in the team. Overall, it is not a team but a family for me. They are people who were very worried about me when I had had my problems, who had waited for me. They had had patience, and I think due to this, things went fine," stated the Colombian.
A journalist had baptized him as the 'Condor of Colombia.' The condor is a big bird that flies only in high mountains in the Andes. It is a nice nickname for a great climber like Soler. However, he doesn't know the reason for the new name. "I don't know. The truth is that it is the first time that I heard that. I wouldn't know why [they refer to me as this]," the Barloworld rider questioned honestly.
The big challenge for Mauricio Soler next season will be to maintain the pace in the top competitions. He will be prepared to start 2008 fit and healthy. "As I had said, first of all I have to recover from this surgery. I would like that one of the first races I can ride is Milano-Torino. It is a race that suits my characteristics very well, and I will try to do just as well as this year."
For more on Soler read Soler solos to special win.