Movistar neo-pro Marc Soler claimed a hard-fought victory in the Tour de l'Avenir on Saturday, defending the lead he built up on Friday's stage to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne on the final mountain finish to the Montee des Bottières. The Spaniard, racing for his national team, ended the week-long stage race 1:09 ahead of Jack Haig (Australia) with the final stage winner Matvey Mamykin (Russia) in third at 2:50.
Soler was 10th in the opening 3.5km time trial, and avoided mishaps in the three flat stages that followed. Søren Kragh Andersen (Denmark) led the race after winning the prologue through a stage win by Jonas Koch (Germany). On stage 2, a breakaway stuck and Mads Pedersen took the win and Swiss rider Tom Bohli donned the yellow jersey.
Andersen was back on top again in stage 3, but was unable to unseat Bohli, and the Danes continued their hot streak on stage 4 with Mads Würtz taking the win and Jose Luis Rodriguez (World Cycling Centre) moving into the race lead on a lumpy stage to Cluses, with Soler lurking in 13th overall, at 1:39.
The Spaniard began his march up the GC ladder on the mountainous stage 5 to La Rosière-Montvalezan, where he finished third behind Guillaume Martin (France) and Gregor Mühlberger (Austria) on the summit finish. The Austrian moved into the maillot jaune over Martin, with Soler now 36 seconds off the race lead.
In the penultimate stage, Soler made his move on the category 1 Col de Beau Plan, cresting the mountain with 10km to go, behind stage winner Elie Gesbert (France) and coming in ahead of his nearest rival Belgian Laurent De Plus to take the race lead by 1:01 over De Plus, and then had only to defend on another mountainous final stage and wait for the early attacker Sebastian Henao (Colombia) to fade.
"I'm really happy to have crowned this week and staying strong after such an effort on Friday," Soler said. "The national team was really good all race, with everyone doing a good job at the front of the bunch or in breakaways - they really were an important part of my success. I really suffered today on the final climb to Bottières. At the Croix-de-Fer, I kept calm. Henao only had a minute and a half left of his original gap, around 2:40, and I knew he would be losing energy. I just had to complete the descent and go for it into the last two climbs."
"Dutchman Oomen attacked into the flat before the Lacets de Montvernier, four or five riders made moves afterwards and I had to jump after them into the climb to secure my lead. Haig came from behind, and Mamykin and him kept a furious pace in the finale, which I almost couldn't keep. I only had to follow their wheels, but it was tremendous."
Mamykin went on to win the stage ahead of Haig, with the Australian moving into second overall but still 1:09 from Soler.
"With days like this, you can't forget everyone who supported you towards the top, starting with Velosprint, CC Mollet and Huesca La Magia clubs as a youth rider, then with Manolo Azcona and Lizarte as Under 23 and, obviously, Eusebio and Movistar Team, who gave me a chance to be a pro with them. Also my family, girlfriend and friends, all of the people working hard out of the spotlight so I can enjoy this sport, and all those hours I had to spend on the saddle to reach this victory. I hope we can build on this.
"Now it's time to enjoy the victory and complete the season. As the Worlds' rules are different than in the Nations Cup, I won't be racing the U23 championships, so I'm waiting for Eusebio to decide which races I'll be enjoying the end of this debut year."