18 July 2007
Team Barloworld, the first South African-sponsored team to contest the Tour de France, captured the attention of the cycling world on Tuesday when the team’s Columbian climber Mauricio Soler scored a brilliant victory on the gruelling and mountainous ninth stage.
“It was an incredible win, something I never expected to achieve. But with some great team work it all worked out fine,” Soler said afterwards.
The courageous and inspiring manner in which the Team Barloworld rider achieved the win captured the imagination.
Out of category climb
The stage, between Val d’Isere and Briancon, covered 159.5 kilometres and included the first out of category climb on the tour. From the start, the climb of Col d’Iseran reduced the peloton to just 70 cyclists as Yaroslav Popovich of Team Discovery Channel took an early lead.
Soler responded with a couple of other riders, managing to catch Popovich at the beginning of the descent. Almost immediately, however, six riders escaped on the descent. By the time the group reached Col de Telegraphe they had a three-minute lead over the chasers.
One man fell off the leaders while Rabobank, protecting the yellow jersey of race leader Michael Rasmussen, led a charge by peleton to close the gap on the breakaway.
Stunning solo effort
With 64 kilometres to go, Soler set off to haul in the leaders. In a stunning solo effort he reduced the two-and-a-half minute deficit within 17 kilometres. Astonishingly, upon catching the leaders, he wasn’t finished, accelerating past them.
They tried to stay with him up Galiber, but no one could manage to keep pace with the Columbian who, in describing his ride, said: “I attacked like a loco(madman) today”. By the top of the climb he led Discovery Channel’s Alberto Contador by nearly two-and-a-half minutes.
Contador and Popovich tried to work together to haul in Soler, but as the finish line approached they were hauled in by a group that included race leader Rasmussen.
The Barloworld cyclist, meanwhile, kept pushing hard and, despite the best efforts of the men behind him, he crossed the finish line 38 seconds ahead of second-placed Alejandro Valverde, cheered on by the huge crowd that lined the streets.
Soler’s win lifted him to 17th in the overall classification, second in the king of the mountains’ standings, and third in the contest for the white jersey, awarded to the highest placed rider under the age of 25.
With Michael Rasmussen also leading the king of the mountains, Soler will get to wear the polka dot jersey while the Rabobank rider dons the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Hunter in green jersey hunt
South Africa’s Robert Hunter, captain of Team Barloworld, remains in the hunt for the green jersey worn by the points’ leader; the sprint ace lies third in the standings, behind only Tom Boonen and Erik Zabel.
The biggest win ever by Team Barloworld was witnessed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who followed the race in the Tour de France director’s vehicle. Later, he presented Soler with a trophy for his fantastic win.
Soler also received a phone call from Columbian President Alvaro Uribe Velez who told the cyclist: “I was engaged today in an official meeting in Medellin, but I was informed about your extraordinary performance and I have wished to express immediately my joy!”
‘What a day!’
Barloworld team manager Claudio Corti was ecstatic in an interview posted on the team’s website: “What a day for our team! Mauricio Soler grabbed the stage thanks to a fantastic performance. The way he pulverized the competitors was unbelievable.
Selected as a wildcard team for the Tour, Barloworld has made its presence felt, firstly with some strong performances by sprinter Robert Hunter, and now with Soler’s stage victory.
Corti commented: “We have deserved such happy moment. To be honest, we were really confident about our race from the very beginning. When we arrived in London, I felt really a positive atmosphere in the team. I think we approached Tour de France in a proper way: no illusions, no dreams, no fear.”
Corti is hoping for more great performances from Soler. Praising the Columbian, he said: “Mauricio is a real professional; he’s always very concentrated on the race. I consider him a true climber and I hope he will be the Tour de France King of the Mountains when we will be in Paris”.
A victory for South Africa
The team manager said Soler’s big win was also a victory for South Africa: “First, thanks to the Team Barloworld. South Africa is discovering cycling; this is good news for sure.
“Second, a huge company like Barloworld is touching our sport capacity in terms of international visibility.
“Third, last, but not least, Team Barloworld is well representing a growing country destined to be one of the spots in the future years not only in cycling: remember the next Soccer World Cup in 2010.”