Colombian racer Rigoberto Urán is competing at this year's Tour de France with his body completely at the service of his Team Sky leader, Bradley Wiggins - something of a crime against himself, as Urán proved on the Mûr-de-Bretagne Stage 4 when he placed fourth - and his mind hanging on his friend Mauricio Soler, with whom he shares an apartment in Pamplona, who is recovering in a Swiss hospital from head injuries sustained in a fall. Soler's team, Movistar, issued a statement to say the Colombian rider had been diagnosed with bleeding on the brain and suffered "multiple fractures and hematomas" in the crash, which took place during the Tour of Switzerland.
"I think a lot about the dangers, in the risks that we take every day," says Urán, 24, a rider with a great future ahead of him and plenty of good experience behind him. "Even though, as we are in different teams, we have only coincided for two weeks this year in Pamplona, I am always thinking about him and I speak to his wife every day."
Soler is expected to be transferred to a Pamplona clinic today to continue a recovery that, it is feared, will never be quite complete. "Yes," says Urán. "I am worried that he will never return to cycling. Right now he must recover the best he can so that he can lead a normal life."
The two riders have their nationality in common, as well as the fact they are both great climbers, which is why they are valued in Europe. But more details separate them: Soler is quiet and introvert, tall, willowy and from Boyacá; Urán is smaller, a fast-talker and hails from Urrao, in Antioquia Department near Medellín.
"You have to get to know Mauricio, and when you do, from there, everything is wonderful with him," says Urán, who came to live in Pamplona four years ago when he signed with Caisse d'Epargne. Soler arrived this year, his second with Movistar. "Colombians like to be together, to be with people from the same land," says Urán. In the apartment he shares with Soler lives another Colombian cyclist, Mauricio Ardila, of Geox.
Much to their regret, the various components of Team Sky, which aims to be the British national team, are finding themselves obliged to learn Castilian Spanish or, at the very least, to put up with the sound of it on the team bus. Juan Antonio Flecha is a man who doesn't hold back and the responses of his fellow Spaniard Xabier Zandio and Urán are always delivered at lightning speed. That is the price Team Sky has to pay if it wants its star rider, Wiggins, to be among the first over the line in Paris.
It is the Colombian, the Navarran and the Argentinean-Catalan who lend a balancing dose of traditional cycling to a team that announced itself last season like a bull in a china shop and made a tremendous impact. Flecha, the veteran of the group, acts as an intermediary: "During the Dauphiné, when Urán was having a bad time of it because of allergies, I acted as translator in a chat when [team general manager David] Brailsford told him not to worry, that the team was very happy with him," he says during preparation for a choppy day. "I looked on a surfers' website and they are predicting winds of 18 knots on the coast we'll be heading along. As it will be blowing in our favor I've gone for 54 gear-inches, to gain speed quickly when I have to get ahead of Wiggins and set him up."
At his side Zandio, the veteran Navarran, is rediscovering the feel of the Tour, which he has not participated in since 2007. He highlights the nervousness in the peloton: "It's exaggerated," he says, perhaps foreseeing that on a stage with the wind in the riders' backs and narrow roads more falls are possible, including from his team leader, Wiggins, for whom the others will toil without ceasing.