Soler sneaks it as Roglič hands over red, but not to Fred

A first Spanish stage win at the Vuelta in two years.

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Things started as they often do for Marc Soler. As he made his way up the road, a hand wave of incredulity and annoyance at what for anyone else would have likely amounted to a minor infraction.

But Soler feels everything. A furious ball of Spanish energy constantly at war with anything and everything, primed to issue sworn oaths of retribution should you merely look at him the wrong way. Today, he channeled that fury, being the last man who made it across to the day’s hotly contested breakaway on stage 5 of the Vuelta a España before unhitching himself on the final ascent of the Alto del Vivero before the run-in to the finish.

In fact, it would be the chase group behind that would prove heedlessly rash. Soler had almost been caught in the finale before Fred Wright said “enough” to Rudy Molard and everyone else on his wheel, stopping his one-man British bus service, having exerted more energy today than the vast swathes of his countrymen who descend on the southern European nation every summer.

Wright occupies the strange space of being a marked man without ever having won a professional race. The 23-year-old has been able to cherry-pick breakaway moves that last to the line with his eyes closed these past couple of months, a breakout Tour de France performance seeing him inch ever-closer to his first taste of glory.

While fellow Brit Jake Stewart made a thwarted bid for freedom before cramping, his Groupama-FDJ teammate Rudy Molard was happier to sit in his wheel, nipping ahead on the final climb to nab two bonus seconds before thankfully seeing Wright fail to win the stage and miss the further bonus seconds that would have diverted the red jersey away from the Frenchman’s shoulders.

“I was thinking about it since yesterday,” Molard said of the plan to take red on stage 5. “I was not so far [away] in the GC, I turn to my teammates ‘it’s possible to get the red today’. I did it. It’s so good.

“I just had to follow him,” Molard said of Wright, so focused on that task it wouldn’t be surprising to hear he’d picked up a second job as the Brit’s official shadow, or if after the finish he’d dismounted and clambered onto the Bahrain-Victorious bus behind him. “He’s very strong and I know he’s very fast, I was in doubt for the final sprint so when Nikias Arndt and Impey were coming from the back for the sprint it was good for me.”

Wright sits two seconds behind Molard and will likely cede further time on tomorrow’s summit finish, a chance gone begging in what amounted to a seminar in bike racing tactics on the second day in Spain this Grand Tour.

“I was feeling strong but I’m disappointed,” Wright admitted. “I was just too marked, I needed good legs but the legs were almost too good, people were use- ah! We just should have caught him, plain it simple, but that just didn’t happen. That’s bike racing…it’s just a shame. It was just close, close again. I’m sure there’ll be better days.”

For Soler, he breaks a two-year drought of homegrown Vuelta stage winners and an even more embarrassing 121 Grand Tour stage wins without Spanish victory. A truly apt thumb-sucking celebration followed as he crossed the line, the pantomime baddie as always, and on a day where it also transpired Julian Alaphilippe had shaved off his trademark, supervillain-esque goatee.

For Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma, some down time after four days in the race lead, gladly handing over the red jersey to riders not deemed threats to their bid for a fourth consecutive title.

“Yes, but it took a while,” Jumbo-Visma sports director Addy Engels said of whether giving up the race lead had been their plan before the start, the fight for the break lasting all of 80km.

“It was really a long fight for the good break to go. For us the most important thing is who will be in the break, if it’s someone who will be in the break for the GC that would be a problem for us. For us it was good, to give them some space and good to give away the jersey like this.”

Ultimately, it will hopefully help the Dutch team save some energy for when the fight for the overall really begins.

“No day is easy of course but we have to see, control the race, if we need to take control then we will, but I think now with a new leader that it’s different than being in the lead yourself. We need to be up there at the right moments but in the end there will be a difference for the situation now compared to when you are in the lead.”

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