Tour de France (st. 19)
Mikel -named Combative on stage 19; now sixth overall- finishes 7th in Laruns after 70km action through Tourmalet and Aubisque, supported by extraordinary Andrey. Quintana struggles badly after Thursday’s crash: loses seven minutes, drops back to 9th.
The Movistar Team was determined to turn things around in the 2018 Tour de France at the final mountain stage of the race, a 200km route from Lourdes to Laruns with six categorized climbs and the legendary Aspin (Cat-1), Tourmalet and Aubisque -both HC-. And they found some of their best legs to match that spirit. Mikel Landa led a brilliant, courageous action for more than two hours of racing, attacking in the Pyrenees’ most mythical climb, with only the biggest GC contenders being able to reach him down.
Jumping across a move by Ilnur Zakarin (TKA) at the bottom of the Tourmalet, Landa continued the action in pursuit of team-mate Daniele Bennati, who had been part of an initial 18-man breakaway, and then went after Andrey Amador, with whom he crested with an advantage already exceeding two minutes over the main peloton. Andrey’s extraordinary work allowed Mikel getting to the front of the race and building, at the foot of the Col des Bordères (Cat-2), a 3’30” gap which even made Landa dream of virtually leading the Tour.
Lotto-Jumbo’s reaction at the Bordères climb, setting up eventual stage winner Primoz Roglic, cut back the gap to only 1’30”, and the attacks by the Slovenian and Tom Dumoulin (SUN) ended up neutralizing the advantage, the break over for Landa with 2km from the top of the Aubisque. Behind the group, already dropped back from the Soulor, Nairo Quintana suffered a real ordeal due to the consequences of Thursday’s crash, ultimately conceding 7′ at the finish to now sit 9th overall.
Mikel held firmly to his winning chances even into the final descent, where Roglic anticipated the GC group by 19″. Landa, 7th across the line, is now sixth overall -4’40” behind Geraint Thomas- as the Movistar squad remains in the lead of the team competition, 11′ ahead of Bahrain-Merida. Eusebio Unzué’s group will tackle a very demanding TT showdown on Saturday, 31km in the French Basque Country, from Saint-Pée to Espelette, before Sunday’s Paris celebrations.
— TT start times (Saturday 28th, all CEST): 13.05 Bennati, 13.57 Erviti, 14.23 Soler, 14.53 Amador, 16.03 Valverde, 16.13 Quintana, 16.19 Landa.
Mikel Landa: “We had to try it from afar, and I’m happy to have made this attempt. When I made my move at the Tourmalet, I knew it would be really difficult, but at some points of the race, I even dreamt of the stage win and even a GC podium finish. The team’s work was enormous, most notably from Andrey, who has proven to be an amazing rider and a marvelous person. Sadly, it was a difficult day because of many reasons: the downhills required to spend lots of energy to keep a decent speed; the break didn’t cooperate as well as I’d have liked to, and there were some big efforts behind to bring us back before the Aubisque. At that final descent, Roglic put some meters on the rest of the group, and I couldn’t fight for the win into the sprint.
“It’s also a sad finish because I wasn’t able to pay Andrey back for his work, but there were so many teams looking for something in the finale: Katusha was working during the stage to defend a 10th spot overall; Lotto put on a big pace and sort of helped out Sky defend the jersey… There’s always someone who spoils the party. Nairo and I had spoken before the stage and he was willing to try something, too. However, looking at the results, he certainly wasn’t feeling as fresh as before the crash – he might have paid that.
“It was a Tour de France full of good and bad moments. I’d like to do a good time trial tomorrow, to confirm this good line of results throughout the season. It’s the first time I come into the Tour with a real aim to lead a team – I got fourth in the 2017 race by a combination of factors, but wasn’t really determined to go for it – and that’s why I’ll leave this race satisfied, whatever result overall I get after the TT.”
Nairo Quintana: “The crash did really hurt me much. I was suffering pain everywhere; mostly in my hip. I wasn’t even able to get out of the saddle. We fought on, trying to lose as little time as possible, and fortunately, we had Landa up there, accomplishing the race strategy we had drawn before the start – which was attacking on the Tourmalet, either him or myself, and stay at the front to see what happened with our rivals. It was a very, very hard day for me – the inflammation after the crash really took its toll on my performance. Let’s see how I wake up tomorrow – I’d like to do well in the TT, continue to improve in that discipline, I’ll give it my all.”
Picture (c): BettiniPhoto.net