No sooner had Marc Soler (Movistar) challenged Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) on the Lo Port summit finish of the Volta a Catalunya than teammate Alejandro Valverde was predicting "this boy will be able to win whatever he likes, even three week Tours."
This was music to the ears of the Spanish cycling fans, desperate to find a successor to Contador. But could it be too much pressure too soon for the 23-year-old Catalan? Judging from the 2015 Tour de L'Avenir winner's well-focused answers in this interview with Cyclingnews, it doesn't seem so.
Cyclingnews: This year, the first time many people sat up and took noticed of you was when you were on the attack with Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) on the last day of Paris-Nice. What memories do you have of that day?
Marc Soler: I attacked to try to get the stage, and it couldn't work out. But I was still very satisfied with it.
CN: Eusebio Unzue (Movistar team manager) said that he thought what you did in the last three stages of Paris-Nice had more long-term value than what happened at Lo Port. Do you agree?
MS: Paris-Nice was what really made me change my mentality, to realise I could be up there with the very biggest names fighting for a stage or even the overall. So I went to Catalonia with my morale really high and that's where it all took off. But Paris-Nice was where everything changed for me.
CN: Interestingly enough, the last time many people saw you off the front this season was also with Contador, at the Vuelta, when you were the last rider to be caught, and dropped by him, en route to his win on the Angliru...
MS: That was my first ever Grand Tour. There was actually another stage in the first week, where [Alexey] Lutsenko (Astana) won [stage 5 - Ed.] and I got third. Then on the Angliru, I got in the early break again. I had a very bad day on the stage to Andorra, so I gave up on the GC and started looking for breaks. I got close twice.
CN: What went wrong in Andorra?
MS: I don't know. Maybe it was the heat, the stress, I knew the climbs very well but that didn't help.
CN: What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
MS: To do equally well, or perhaps improve a little bit. I did a very good year and I'll like to take another step up in 2018.
CN: Those comments Valverde made about you in Catalunya have had a big impact. How much attention are you paying to them?
MS: Not much. I'm still working as hard as I could and that's it, really. I don't know what calendar I'm doing yet, but we'll see soon.
CN: Catalan cycling's two top reference points are Joaquim Rodriguez and [1950s Classics racer and sprinter] Miguel Poblet. Do you identify with either of them?
MS: Not really. I'm more of an all-rounder. Being tall, I can race well on the flat, and then I'm very good at climbing, and I'm not that bad a time trialist either.
CN: Where do you rank your Tour de l'Avenir victory in your achievements?
MS: On a par with Catalunya and alongside my first ever pro win, the stage I won in the Route du Sud.
So far, my career has gone fairly smoothly, ever since I was a junior and racing for Huesca-La Magia, which is the main feeder Junior team for Lizarte. Lizarte is the main feeder amateur team for Movistar and I did a good ride one year at [top Spanish amateur one-day race] the Memorial Valenciaga. That's what got me noticed by Movistar, Eusebio was at the race that year, and he called me straight after the Giro that Nairo Quintana won. He offered me a place as a stagiaire in 2015, then a full pro contract for 2016."
CN: Obviously you've got a lot of big-name riders to look up to at Movistar, but is there any non-Movistar rider you particularly admire?
MS: Froome. I'm a big fan of his, I first spoke to him at the Volta a Catalunya, and it was quite a special moment for me.
CN: Spanish cycling has been on the hunt for a successor to the generation of Valverde-Contador-Rodriguez for quite a while. Do you feel there is a real gap or can the younger riders fill the vacuum?
MS: It's going to happen little by little. There's been a real golden era of racers, and performing at that level is going to be very complicated. But we'll just have to see how well we can do.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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