Tag Archives: Mikel Landa

Further notes on the chaos of yesterday before the sure madness of today

With today’s stage starting later and so many talking points still lingering from yesterday, I thought I’d put down some thoughts on them.

Watergate

Following yesterday’s stage, Rigoberto Uran and George Bennett where each accessed a 20 second time penalty for taking ‘illegal feeds’ inside the final 20km. Both riders took bottles of water from speectators at the side of the road. The controversy though was that Frenchman, Romain Bardet, was also seen doing the same at the same moment, but escaped a sanction for reasons unknown.

There is little doubt the race jury at this Tour is having a real shocker, and this only added to it. The jury’s decision was final though, and they wouldn’t be changing it. That was until this morning when I woke up to learn that both penalties to Uran and Bennett had been reversed. It now leaves Uran only 35 seconds behind Fabio Aru on GC. But rather than access Bardet the same penalty and to heck with local outrage, it sounds like it was more convenient, on Bastille Day of all days, to cancel them all.

Froome v Wiggins is now Landa v Froome

Think back five years to the exact same mountain finish as yesterday: Peyragudes. On that day Chris Froome was edging ahead of Bradley Wiggins, his team leader in yellow jersey, desperate to go for the stage win. The team radio lit up and Froome was made to wait for the suffering Wiggins. To tow him up the climb to the finish and ensure he remained in yellow. Froome was 27 years of age that day; Wiggins was 32.

Today, Froome is 32 and his energetic, ambitions team mate, Mikel Landa, is 27. And on the same mountain, it was Landa who was choping at the bit. He looked so comfortable on the run in while Froome was struggling. And on that savage final 300m ramp up to the line, when Froome cracked, Landa went on without him. To be fair their was little Landa could have done at that stage, but it was the optics. What does it do for team moral?

It begged the question: Is Lanada riding for himself, or for Froome? Or is it a bit of both? It’s believed the Spaniard is leaving Sky at the end of the season for Movistar, so what has he got to lose by staking out alone? Unlike his team mates who have ridden on the front before blowing big time, Lanada has maintained and currently sits 7th on GC, 2’55” behind Aru. It might be unfair to say that Lanada is doing his own thing. He didn’t go all in and take the stage after all, but I’m not sure he wants to flog himself for Froome either.

The counter argument is that Sky should have let Lanada go for the stage in that last 500m. By doing so he would have eaten up some of the time bonuses. If Sky are worrying about Landa’s self serving ambitions their solution is simple. Put him further up the line. Stick him on the front a few men early and make him ride before hanging over to another team mate.

I wait with anticipation to see how they play it and to see how Landa rides. Or could it be that we are all reading too much into it?

What to make of Froome’s struggle?

Which leads to another subject we may all be reading a little too much into. What is the condition of Chris Froome? He lost 22 seconds to Bardet yesterday and suffered on that mega steep ramp to the line. Knowing what they know now, would Bardet or Aru have attacked earlier? And if they had would they have taken serious time? It depends on whether Froome was suffering long before the finish or whether it was only the steep ramp that caught him out? I suppose we’ll never know. Today and the days ahead though will tell us whether it was nothing more than a bad day for the Sky man or whether he is a fading force. Is he not at his best form or is age catching up with him? Will he strike back or is this to Froome what ’96 was to Indurain?

There is also the suggestion that Froome’s lack of form and results all season was to allow him to peak later in the Tour. That his best is still to come in the third week. Or indeed that he will peak late to win the Tour and still have something in the take for the Vuelta, unlike in previous years.

Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Froome is past his prime years. He’ll have to pick and chose his moments and rely on his know how to get the job done. It happened to Alberto Contador before him, and in fact, Froome had to win the Tour last year in that way. Could it be a year too far? I am not convinced. It is more that he doesn’t suits those steep ramps at his age anymore. Stage 18 will be far better for him and there is still damage to do.

The Giro men are suffering

I asked the question yesterday whether Nairo Quintana would ever win the Tour? He hasn’t looked good this year and he was a ways short last year too. I wondered had his career peaked earlier than most? That might be unfair. While Quintana lost a Giro in which he arrived fresh, it is also true he had this Tour in the back of his mind. He said he will target only the Tour next year, so we’ll see what he can do.

That said, if Nairo Quintana has done anything in this Tour it end the suggestion that the Giro-Tour double is realistic. The Colombian had hoped to target both races this year but after going hard at the Giro and falling short, he has looked a shadow of himself at this Tour.

But this is a good thing. He might not see it that way, but to me it shows the change in culture in the peloton today compared to ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. It has been 19 years since anyone achieved the Giro-Tour double, and we all know what state the sport was in back in 1998. If anything hints at a better era, it is Quintana’s performance at this Tour.

And not only Quintana. Below are the top riders from the Giro who are competing at this Tour with their current placing in the general classification after 12 stages:

Nairo Quintana – 2nd at the Giro – 8th at the Tour at 4’01”
Thibaut Pinot – 4th at the Giro – 66th at the Tour at 1h15’51”
Bauke Mollema – 7th at the Giro – 35th at the Tour at 11’50”
Mikel Landa – 17th at the Giro – 7th at the Tour at 2’55”

Over to today

Today’s stage should be crazy. 101km long with three category one climbs. Expect the action to come early and often. It’s open to an ambush if someone is willing. And with the jersey now on Aru’s shoulders it will be facinating to see if Astana now ride or whether Sky maintain the status quo. They may wish to set the pace in the knowledge Froome is only 6 seconds back but with a time-trial to come.

This one is a can’t miss.

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Quintana grabs pink but will need more time

By the time I tuned into the Giro d’Italia today – and by tune in I mean logged onto Twitter, as well as a live blog – I had missed the ambush. It had been a busy morning for me and while I knew there was a summit finish, I kind of overlooked anything that might happen before. In a way, I felt ambushed.

By all accounts the pink jersey of Tom Dumoulin got distanced on a descent and the teams of Nibali and Quintana put the hammer down. It all came to nothing in the end as a frantic chase ensued that brought it all back together. Even the days initial break was no more. What it did serve to do was soften up the legs of Big Tom who began to lose contact the moment they hit the final climb to Piancavallo.

Doing as he does best though, Dumoulin didn’t panic. He settled into his rhythm and set about limiting his loses. The GC will tell you he had a 31 second advantage over Quintana to play with. In reality, with the final day time-trial still to come, that advantage was more like 2 minutes. By the end of the day Dumoulin would lose 1 minute 9 seconds, and his pink jersey, to Quintana.

Up ahead of him the group of rivals vying for Dumoulin’s blood, stuck together. For the most part, that is. Thibaut Pinot was an exception. The Frenchman has been very aggressive lately and it’s been to his benefit. He attached again and while he only took a handful of seconds today, he has closed to within a minute of Quintana overall. Nibali lost a couple of seconds but he himself is only 43 seconds in arrears.

Further up the road a break had formed containing stage hunters no longer linked to the general classification. The usual names were present: Pierre Rolland and Mikel Landa. Has there been a break through this whole race that hasn’t included one of them? It doesn’t feel like it. The past two days had seen some very deserving stage winners. Rolland was finally rewarded for his many efforts with a win on stage 17, giving Cannondale-Drapac their second World Tour win in 10 days after Andrew Talansky won at the Tour of California. This after the team had gone over two years without a win at the elite level. The following day Tejay Van Garderen restored some much needed confidence with a stage win of his own. And so today another man joined them: Landa. The Sky man seen his GC ambitions end with that crash on the road to Blockhaus on stage 9 and turned to targeting stage wins. He has had two second place finishes already, having led out two, two-up sprints, losing both. Today though he went solo, saving the worry of a sprint and instead enjoying the moment with his arms in the air.

Tomorrow marks the final day in the mountains. It’s not quite a summit finish, but it may as well be. For Quintana, Nibali and Pinot, they’re going to need to hurt Dumoulin again. The Colombian needs another minute, but at the very least he needs to soften Dumoulin’s legs so come the time-trial the Dutchman isn’t quite so potent. That said he might also need to worry about Pinot and Nibali. Both can time-trial better. They may shed Dumoulin, but if either can put a little extra time into Quintana tomorrow, they could yet leapfrog him in the time-trial to win the Giro on the final day.

What for a while was looking like a runaway win for Dumoulin on the day he took his impromptu bathroom break, before becoming a two man race, now appears almost to be a four way fight for the top prize in Milan. That will make for a riveting weekend of viewing. I can only hope I find a way to actually watch it and not rely completely on social media!

General classification after stage 19

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 85h2’40”

2. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) @ 38″

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) @ 43″

4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) @ 53″

5. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) @ 1’21”

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) @ 1’30”

Froome’s Vuelta goes up in smoke as Aru takes control of Red

Chris Froome’s hopes of winning the Tour-Vuelta double went up in smoke yesterday as the Sky rider crashed early and never recovered as his future team-mate Mikel Landa got in the early break and won the day, while Landa’s soon to be former team-mate, Fabio Aru destroyed all those who were contending for the Tour and hoping to contend here, moving himself into the Red jersey and in complete control of the race.

It was billed as the Queen Stage and it was one of the toughest in recent memory with five brutally hard categorised climbs, but in the end it almost proved too difficult for a field containing many spill overs from the Tour. Aru, who has been targeting the Vuelta all season looked the sharpest and while his lead of the Vuelta is still a matter of seconds to the likes of Joaqium Rodriguez and Tom Dumoulin, men like Nairo Quintana (@ 3min 7sec) and Alejandro Valverde (@ 1min 52sec) are all but out of the running.

Chris Froome is very much out of the running. He limped home in 32nd, 7min 19sec after Aru who came home second behind Landa at 1min 22sec, with limping being the optimal word. Froome crashed early and though he made his way back to the main field, when the pressure went on at the front later in the stage, Froome was immediately distanced. There is no doubt Froome is not at his very best, despite coming second this past Sunday, but even tired legs from the Tour would not have seen him struggle this badly. And so it proved to be this morning when Froome failed to take to the start, abandoning the Vuelta with a broken foot.

It’s a shame for the competition, and because Froome was in the mix to win this Vuelta before the stage, it leaves the debate open as to whether back-to-back Grand Tour wins is still possible? At first glance it almost appears not — and certainly the idea of a triple crown has been put to bed — because even before the crash, Froome has found the going tougher than he otherwise would if he hadn’t rode in France this past July. Aru on the other hand looks fresher and a level above the rest. Shy of having all the contenders ride all the Grand Tours, it would seem the likely favourites are those who came in fresh and even targeting that specific race.

So was the stage too hard? Well Landa and Aru would say no, of course, and neither of them rode the Tour. Besides, the route is set long before the entry list is known and the route organisors can hardly dictate the route to account for riders who may come to contend but do so after a hard Tour de France. That said, the difficulty of the stage all but nullified any serious racing until late on and when it did open up so too did the time gaps. In contrast you had a stage like the one on stage 9 in which there was only one serious climb, right at the end, and numerous contenders, arriving that little bit fresher, took the race to one another with a winner and the potential ramifications for the overall not known until the very end.

There is a long way to go, of course, and many mountains in which Aru could yet collapse, but only Joaqium Rodriguez looks a likely contender to take the race to him.

That said, it takes all kinds of stages to make a Grand Tour and it’s only in hindsight that people are questioning yesterday’s epic. The morning of, anyone would be lying if they said they weren’t excited for what lay in store. And with 10 stages left to go and plenty of climbing in store this stage will, at very least, have served to further soften up the legs of those who pushed hard for more potentially unpredictable action ahead.

It’s that theory that we can only clutch to in the hopes that a wide open fight to win this Vuelta remains. Aru will hope I’m wrong, Rodriguez will hope I’m right, and Quintana will somehow look to the gap he almost overcame against Froome in the Alps last month.

Result: Classement:
1. Landa (AST)

2. Aru (AST)

3. Boswell (SKY)

4. Moreno (KAT)

5. Rodriguez (KAT)

6. Majka (TSC)


8. Chaves (OGE)
9. Dumoulin (TGA)
12. Valverde (MOV)
14. Quintana (MOV)
32. Froome (SKY)

in 4h 34′ 54″

@ 1′ 22″

@ 1′ 40″

@ 1′ 57″

@ 1′ 59″

@ 2′ 10″

@ 2′ 59″
ST
@ 3′ 4″
@ 4′ 19″
@ 8′ 41″

1. Aru (AST)

2. Rodriguez (KAT)

3. Dumoulin (TGA)

4. Majka (TSC)

5. Chaves (OGE)

6. Valverde (MOV)


9. Quintana (MOV)
15. Froome (SKY)
22. Roche (SKY)

in 43h 12′ 19″

@ 27″

@ 30″

@ 1′ 28″

@ 1′ 29″

@ 1′ 52″

@ 3′ 7″
@ 7′ 30″
@ 13′ 3″