Less than a year after announcing his retirement from professional cycling, following a dramatic crash at the 2011 Tour de Suisse in which he suffered a fractured skull and was placed in an induced coma, Mauricio Soler is still coming to terms with life without his beloved sport.
The Colombian climber thrust himself into the spotlight at the 2007 Tour de France where, in his first season riding for Barloworld, he won a mountain stage and took home the king of the mountains classification.
It was a result that put Colombian cycling back on the map after Santiago Botero won the title in the 2000 edition. Soler became just the third Colombian to be crowned the Tour's best climber with the first of two titles taken by Luis Herrara in 1985 and 1987.
Now, less than a year on from his official retirement date, the 30-year-old says it has been difficult to come to terms with what has happened and laments the fact his career was cut short by such a freak accident.
"It may be that, even when you are at your peak, a fall or illness can put an end to a great career," he told eluniversal.com.co.
"I expected this to be a simple fall, expected my wounds to heal but when the neurologist told me I probably could not return to cycling competitively, it was not easy for me," he added.
Soler still enjoys watching bigger races like the Giro d'Italia or Tour de France but says he's not yet ready to return to action and stand roadside as the peloton whizzes by. The memories of his achievements, which concluded with an emotional stage win at the Tour de Suisse - that he devoted to the tragic death of teammate Xavi Tondo are now kept safe in his head after losing nearly all his own personal footage.
"I like watching cycling on television, especially the big races like the Giro, Tour and Vuelta but personally I would not be able to go there as a spectator knowing that could still be doing important things in them.
"I have the trophies, which are many and are very important but unfortunately the videos were lost because the hard drive was completely erased. My brother showed me a video shortly after being discarded from hospital [where I won the stage at Suisse]. Those memories I have them in my mind."
Cycling at a high level is still an impossible task for Soler who suffers from dizziness and headaches when he pushes himself too far. He continues to live a life of routine similar to his cycling days but he instead uses his time to walk around his property, rather than training in his former 'home' in the mountains.
"Unfortunately the cycling stage is over, at least competitively. I try to cycle as therapy but it is very difficult. It still bothers me and I get a little dizzy when the pulse rises too fast and I get a headache. I can still do a small amount but I have to try and control my heart rate.
"I cannot fully enjoy cycling anymore. My body was used to spending a lot of energy and now it is not easy to do more than simply walk. But I like to keep busy and have a routine walking training of three hours.
"I miss many things. I wish I could do them all because I enjoyed what I did. I've had time to spend with the family which is very nice. My story is now with Patricia, my wife, my in-laws, my family and my son who is my biggest. I must try to do the best in my recovery, for him.
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