In the absence of former winners Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, Movistar's tactics and ambitions for the Vuelta a Espana was going to be a different affair from previous years. In lieu of its two leaders, the team has opted for a stage winning strategy with former Tour de l'Avenir winner Marc Soler taking up the mantle on stage 5.
The 23-year-old, who is making his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta, made his way into the stage 5 breakaway and with the Ermita de Santa Lucía finale suiting his characteristics, Soler believed the win was within his grasp.
"There wasn't any cooperation between the ones in the group when Lutsenko and Haller attacked, I think that was the key for us not being able to contest the win," said Soler.
Soler ended the stage in third place, 56 seconds down on stage winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) and 14 seconds after Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data).
"It makes you angry to see that a lack of agreement into a group prevents you from winning a Grand Tour stage, but things just went this way, and we'll have to keep trying for the remainder of the race. My legs felt really better today. As I said before, I thought I would be getting into good form with some days of competition, and I'm feeling fine now," he added.
With a further eight summit finishes yet to come in the Vuelta, Soler is anticipating more opportunities to come as he explained.
"Let's see how everything evolves for me, there's still plenty to fight for in this Vuelta. We look at everything in this Vuelta as part of a learning process, and things are looking good so far," he said.
While Soler's focus is on stages, Movistar has Carlos Betancur in 16th place and Nelson Oliveira in 24th place in the overall standings.
Croc Trophy announce major sponsor
The Middle East Peace Tour has been announced as the 'principal patron' of the Crocodile Trophy stage race. The oldest mountain bike stage on the international calendar takes place September. 16-23 September in North Queensland, one week after the mountain World Championships will be held in Cairns.
Miguel Martinez, former Tour de France rider Erik Dekker and 2014 women's winner Imogen Smith are confirmed starters for the race.
Gerhard Schönbacher is the founder of both the Crocodile Trophy and the Middle East Peace Tour which will be held for the first time next March.
"With the MEPT - Crocodile Trophy the oldest and most legendary mountain bike stage race is supported by the world's very first bike race for peace," Schönbacher said. "Just as I've always wanted to discover and explore the most beautiful regions of Australia on the bike with my Crocodile Trophy racers, I've had a life-long dream to create a cycling event promoting peace with the participation of athletes from all countries and entities in the Middle East area."
The full start list for the Crocodile Trophy will be announced in the lead up to the race.
The defending champions are Urs Huber and Alice Pirard.
Third straight Druivenkoers title for Jerome Baugnies
Belgian Jérôme Baugnies (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) came into the Druivenkoers-Overijse as the two-time defending champion and without a win in season 2017. The 30-year-old came into the race under pressure to make it a hat trick and delivered on his pre-race talk.
"I really looked forward to this race. To my close environment I said: "Whoever beats me wins this race." That is big talk, but I knew my form is really good. It's not easy to win here three times in a row. But we rode a perfect race with the team," Baugnies said.
Baugnies beat Amund Grondahl Jansen (LottoNL-Jumbo) in the sprint to the line with teammate Xandro Meurisse in third place to cap off a successful day for the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team.
While Roger De Vlaeminck and Björn Leukemans hold the record with four wins, Leukemans won the race in four consecutive years and Baugnies is aiming to match the record in 2018.
"I love this race for three reasons. Firstly, the period. In recent years, it's always good weather, which I love," Baugnies said. "Secondly, the course. I love the explosive slopes and the fallout competition. It's traditionally a race with a very long finale. Thirdly, the tradition. Bjorn Leukemans won here four times, and I try to take over that tradition. Although it will not be easy to win here again."
Having opened his 2017 win account, Baugnies is aiming to continue his streak this week.
"Saturday I am riding in Meulebeke and I want to do something nice in Geraardsbergen on Wednesday. I've heard that it's the 100th edition. My song is definitely not over and still want to achieve some nice results until the end of the season," he said.
Third time lucky at Tour de l'Avenir for Hodeg
Hodeg, who is a stagiaire with QuickStep-Floors, took the win in Saint-Amand-Montrond ahead of Alan Banaszek (Poland) and Konrad Gessner (Germany). The winner of the Maglia Azzurra classification at the Baby Giro, Hodeg was full of praise for his teammates as the race now heads into the decisive final stages in the Alps.
"A little pumped from the back, but with a lot of motivation because we knew that for me was the last opportunity today. There was a lot of wind and from the beginning, it was planned to do some attacks," said Hodeg according to El Espectador. "Today we tried and we were given the strength. I think it has been the most important victory of my entire career. We have to thank God, my family, my coach and all the people in Colombia that make a lot of effort every day."
With Fernando Gaviria announcing himself as one of the sprinters to the watch in the peloton in 2017, Hodeg has ensured he too will be a Colombian fast man to keep an eye on. With the race now heading to the mountains, Colombia are riding in support of Egan Bernal who won the Le Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc and Sibiu Cycling Tour ahead of the Tour de l'Avenir.
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