Tour de France (st. 15)
Basque climber up to 7th overall -with Valverde in 8th- after 41km attack from Mur de Péguère; reaches finish alongside top GC contender Pinot (GFC) following great work from Soler & Amador.
Just like yesterday and so many times, the Movistar Team rode its heart out to offer the fans some joy in the 2019 Tour de France, seeking for the stage win and a step forward in the GC during the final stage in the Pyrenees. The 185km from Limoux to the top of Prat d’Albis (Cat-1) saw the Telefónica-backed squad going all-out, with great legs and attitude from a superb Mikel Landa, who finishes 3rd behind Simon Yates (MTS) and Thibaut Pinot (GFC).
The 28-year-old Basque climber jumped off the front of the favourites’ group with 41km to go, on the steepest slopes of the Mur de Péguère (Cat-1) climb, chasing a breakaway that included two crucial members of the Blue outfit dropping back to support him: Marc Soler and Andrey Amador. As the trio got together into the descent, they opened a 1’30” gap against the GC group through the valley, a gap subsequently reduced by Pinot’s attacks. Mikel, though, was still able to put more than one minute on race leader Julian Alaphilippe (DQT), climbing onto seventh overall, 4’54” behind. Alejandro Valverde, once again inside the second echelon of favourites, took 9th in the stage and currently sits eighth overall (+5’00”).
The ‘Grande Boucle’ will enjoy its second, final rest day in Nîmes on Monday -with a penultimate chance for the sprinters on Tuesday- before the brutal Alps stages, Wednesday to Sunday, that will decide the 106th edition of the French grandtour.
Mikel Landa: “I was sad yesterday, because I went empty through the final slopes of the Tourmalet and was left out of stage contention. I felt better today and wanted to try something. We started the stage with a plan to attack, and it was hard to carry out that strategy because the others clearly knew our intention. That’s why it took so long for the breakaway to form, and it was really hard to get those three riders to the front. The team-mates really showed great commitment into that break, Andrey and Marc gave everything for me in the approach to Prat – I’m really thankful for that. Knowing that Yates was ahead I knew it would be really hard to go for the stage win. He’s such a talented rider, and he’s also had the chance to take the foot of the gas at some stages.
“Landismo never dies! (laughs). It’s true that I lost so much time when I crashed on stage ten -I still feel furious about it, I hope I won’t miss those two minutes at the end of the race-, so talking about a GC victory is really too much, yet I think a podium is still possible. I’d like to win a stage and there are many tough routes ahead in the Alps. Alaphilippe? He got over the first long block of mountains in this Tour with a really decent result, and he looks just like any other favourite in the race to me right now.”
Alejandro Valverde: “You can’t say we didn’t try. We got three into the breakaway, Nairo also got really close to having a shot at the provisional GC podium, and then Mikel attacked in the penultimate climb and we could have him gaining some advantage and taking 3rd with that big help from our team-mates. I could also do well, finishing with Thomas. It was nearly a perfect day for us when it comes to attitude. We’re a group of fighters, and we won’t settle with what we’ve got right now. Nairo didn’t have his best legs yesterday -the crash affected him-, but he felt quite better today. We can now enjoy the rest day and, look out for the next week – those three Alps stages will be really, really tough. It’s a very different block of mountains, with high altitude, 2,500-2,600 meters. It will be tough for Alaphilippe, but you can only applaud him for what he’s done so far. It’s still a long way to the end.”
Nairo Quintana: “We didn’t stay in the bunch without doing anything, did we. It was a great team strategy to support Mikel – just like we said yesterday, it was all about supporting him. All team-mates did, and I tried to get into that breakaway to force other teams to keep a high pace behind. Mikel did really well afterwards. To be honest, I was lacking some air at the foot of the final climb and wasn’t able to help him out, yet he was strong and could do well either way.”
Cover picture (c): BettiniPhoto