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Mas, Soler poised to step up for Movistar

Promising duo see new opportunities and pressure to fill void in Spanish peloton.

Enric Mas and Marc Soler have some big shoes to fill in 2020. Not only within their Movistar team, but across the Spanish peloton as well.

With the exception of Alejandro Valverde, Spain’s golden generation that dominated the peloton during much of the past 15 years that included the likes of Alberto Contador, Oscar Freire, Carlos Sastre, and Joaquim Rodríguez have all retired. Spain is desperate for a new general classification contender, and though Mikel Landa is a consistent podium threat, some hope Mas and Soler will step up to fill the void.

Mas, 25, said he’s ready for the added responsibility. He impressed during his Tour de France debut last year with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, finishing 22nd overall despite struggling in the Pyrénées, and will share leadership duties with Valverde.

“At 25, I think this comes at a good moment,” Mas said of his growing responsibility. “In the 2018 Vuelta a España I did a good job, and I learned a lot in last year’s Tour riding with [Julian] Alaphilippe. I hope to learn even more with Valverde.”

Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde at the 2020 Vuelta a Murcia. Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Mas said riding shotgun to Alaphilippe’s emotional ride in the yellow jersey last summer provided insight to what it takes to not only handle the tactical challenge of leading in the race, but the pressure that comes off the bike as well. Mas rode into the top-10 coming out of the first time trial, but struggled in the Pyrénées as he rode in support of Alaphilippe.

Riders such as Contador have already called Mas, who won a mountain stage and finished second in the 2018 Vuelta, as Spain’s future grand tour champion. Having Valverde along for this year’s Tour will help Mas carry the load of being Spain’s “next big thing.”

“I think we can go to the Tour with Enric and make a good Tour,” said Valverde, who will also race the Vuelta with Mas. “It’s going to be a bit of a strange season, but we hope we can take advantage of it.”

Keen to give his new leaders the opportunities they want, Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué is breaking up his famous “Three Muskateers” all-in tactic in this year’s compressed calendar, and will send Soler to be the outright leader in the Giro d’Italia.

Movistar at the 2019 Vuelta a Espana

Team Movistar the 2019 Tour of Spain, stage 17. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

“Instead of bringing all three to the Tour, Enric will go hand-in-hand with Alejandro, who can lead the way,” Unzué said. “Valverde and Enric will lead [at Tour and the Vuelta]. We’ll go [to] the Giro and the classics with Marc.”

That’s a big step for Soler, 26, who won the 2018 Paris-Nice and who’s raced two editions each of the Tour and Vuelta, but never the Giro. Soler, who turned pro with Movistar in 2015, is ready to take the next step in his trajectory.

“I’m excited about this chance to lead the team,” Soler said during a conference call Wednesday. “I hope to finish as high as possible on GC. It’s motivating to have my teammates support me like this, and I hope to live up to expectations.”

Mas and Soler share common traits on the road, both being solid all-rounders who can defend against the clock and ride with the best in the mountains. Off the bike, Mas is more low-key while Soler has a much stronger character.

Enric Mas

Enric Mas of Team Movistar at the 2020 Vuelta a Andalucia – Ruta del Sol stage 5. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

The cycling world got a glimpse of Soler’s intensity during the 2019 Vuelta a España when he exploded in frustration after sport directors told him to sit up when he was off the front in stage 9 in a rainy course across Andorra. Soler believed he could have won the stage — eventually won by Tadej Pogacar — and reacted angrily when Movistar told him to wait for the chasing Nairo Quintana, who eventually took the leader’s jersey that day. Soler later apologized to his teammates for the incident.

Soler, who already won a race to open the disrupted 2020 season, said he’s fully behind the opportunity to lead at the Giro where Movistar will line up without defending champion Richard Carapaz.

“Eusebio proposed the idea to me, and after thinking about it and studying the route, I thought it was a good idea,” Soler said. “I am really excited about being the leader of the team at the Giro.

Movistar saw the biggest changes of any of the established WorldTour teams coming into 2020. The transfer season saw the exits of team stalwart Quintana, rising star Carapaz and Spanish GC challenger Mikel Landa. Other key riders leaving included Andrey Amador, Winner Anacona, Rafael Valls, Carlos Barbero, and Jasha Sutterlin. Daniele Bennati also retired in what saw a major makeover at Movistar, one of the longest-running teams in the peloton.

Part of these big changes at Movistar came in the wake of a high-profile disagreement over the exit of Carapaz, with Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué and Carapaz’s agent having a falling out over Carapaz’s future that was splashed across headlines. Quintana said he wanted a new challenge at Arkea-Samsic, while Landa said Movistar’s multi-leader approach to the grand tours wasn’t to his liking, and joined Bahrain-McLaren with the hope of seeing more committed backing.

Fourteen new riders came across, and with the exception of Mas, Davide Villella, and Dario Cataldo (both Astana), most were young, promising riders that Unzué hopes to develop in the coming years.

Soler already won a race to open the disrupted 2020 season. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

Unzué, who was the sport director for such riders as Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain, expressed confidence in his two latest pupils.

“Enric, guided by Alejandro, will keep gaining experience in the grand tours and fitting into our team,” Unzué said. “Marc deserves more opportunities after all the work he’s done for our team the past few years. He will be our leader for the Giro and he will count on the support of our team.”

The future of Movistar, and in large part the Spanish peloton, could be hanging in the balance — no pressure there.