BILBAO, Spain (AP) — With the finish line in sight, Marc Soler looked back over his shoulder and realized his challengers wouldn’t catch him.
He threw his hand to his helmet in apparent disbelief, then started celebrating a big win for him and his country.
Soler broke free on the final ascent to win the fifth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Wednesday and give Spain its first stage win at a Grand Tour race in two years. No Spanish rider had won since Ion Izagirre took the sixth stage of the 2020 Vuelta.
“In the end I was able to make it happen and I’m very happy,” said Soler, of UAE Team Emirates. “It’s not easy. There are many Spanish riders in many teams but we often have to work. It’s not easy but we can also win.”
Soler’s other win at the Vuelta came on the second stage in 2020.
Frenchman Rudy Molard was in the group of riders who crossed the line four seconds behind Soler and took the overall leader’s red jersey from three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic, who had won Tuesday’s stage.
“I was stressed until the end,” said Molard, a Frenchman from team Groupama-FDJ. “It means a lot to me. Last year, I left the race with a serious accident. I didn’t know if I would be able to return to my best level. And a year later I lead a Grand Tour. I really struggled this winter, I couldn’t do any sport for several weeks. You always have to believe.”
Molard leads the general classification by two seconds ahead of Fred Wright, the British rider from team Bahrain Victorious. Germany’s Nikias Arndt, of Team DSM, was more than a minute back in third place.
Roglic, trying to become the first rider to win four straight Vuelta titles, fell to fifth place, more than four minutes off the lead. His Jumbo-Visma had its riders wearing the red jersey in each of the first four stages.
The three-week race, which began with three stages in the Netherlands, will finish in Madrid.
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