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Soler: Riding for stage wins or the jersey?

If you believe Barloworld team manager Claudio Corti, Colombian climbing sensation Mauricio Soler is starting next week’s Giro d’Italia only with ambitions to win a stage or two. Instead of making a run for the maglia rosa, Corti says the Giro will serve as a springboard for Soler to improve on his remarkable haul in last year’s Tour de France that included 11th place overall, a stage victory and the best climber’s jersey.

By Andrew Hood

Soler made a big impression on last year's Tour de France

Soler made a big impression on last year’s Tour de France

Photo: AFP (file photo)

If you believe Barloworld team manager Claudio Corti, Colombian climbing sensation Mauricio Soler is starting next week’s Giro d’Italia only with ambitions to win a stage or two.

Instead of making a run for the maglia rosa, Corti says the Giro will serve as a springboard for Soler to improve on his remarkable haul in last year’s Tour de France that included 11th place overall, a stage victory and the best climber’s jersey.

But is Corti playing coy and simply keeping his cards close to his chest? The Colombian condor could soar in the extremely difficult climbs in the final week of the Giro, but Corti isn’t giving anything away if he thinks so.

“We’re going to race, not just train, but we don’t know what Soler can do at the Giro,” Corti told VeloNews. “I think it’s more realistic that he takes aim at a stage victory in the mountains than start with pretensions of the GC.”

Barloworld will bring a solid team to the Giro. Joining Soler will be Enrico Gasparotto, who wore the maglia rosa in the first week last year as part of Liquigas. The Giro is Gasparotto’s top goal for the season and will be the team’s first leader.

Corti says Soler will be the team’s stage-win option for the mountains in the grueling second half of the Giro.

“Soler can race two grand tours in one season. He’s young, but he’s strong,” he said. “We’ll go concentrated to do a good Giro and then recover to be even stronger at the Tour. The Giro will help him build his resistance that he’ll need in the Tour.”

In his 18th season as a sport director, Corti has been around the block a few times, but even he gets excited about Soler’s potential.

Soler’s surprise run through last year’s Tour was another confirmation that the gangly Colombian has the right stuff.

“I knew he was a great climber, but to win a stage and the best climber’s jersey was such a great reward. We had confidence he could do well, but the fact that he was so strong was not a surprise to us,” he says. “For me, his best day was on the stage to the Aubisque. He attacked early to secure the King of the Mountains jersey, then when the group came up to him, he was able to finish with the best – that demonstrates his quality.”

How high can Soler climb? Corti says the peloton is just starting to see the real potential of the Colombian import.

“He’s still very young – only 25. He did only one season in Europe before he joined us last year. Now he’s more mature and he’s more comfortable here. He’s a very simple, friendly guy. He loves to train and he has natural gift for climbing,” Corti says. “He’s different because he doesn’t have the small build of a typical climber. He has more of the characteristics to develop into a stage-race rider. He can climb but he can do pretty well in the time trial. He’s a complete rider, not just a climbing specialist.

So if Soler isn’t the joker in the pack for the Giro, will he be unleashed at the Tour in July? Corti is frank about Soler’s ability to win the Tour, at least this year.

“To win the Tour, you need a strong team. Maybe he can win the Tour with us, but we won’t have the team he needs this year,” he said. “We want to keep the team growing and improving. We have a good structure and we’ve taken it step by step. We received some welcomed invitations from the big races and that helped with our sponsors. We have it secured through 2009 with an option for another year. We have a good group of riders, with Soler, so we hope to keep improving.”

Corti, who was also director and manager at such teams as Saeco and Lampre before crossing over to Barloworld in 2005, said last year’s Tour was extremely satisfying for the team.

The squad scored a wild-card bid to race the Tour and didn’t fail to live up to expectations, winning a stage with South African sprinter Robbie Hunter along with Soler’s exhibition.

“For us, it was very important to be in the Tour. We all understood it was an opportunity to demonstrate the value of this team. We were very motivated,” he said. “We tried with Robbie (Hunter) in the first week in the sprints and Soler was quiet, but the second half of the Tour was just wonderful.”

Corti is hoping for more of the same in the Giro and the Tour.