FOIX, France (VN) — It was only fitting that Spain’s two biggest stars linked up in the Tour de France stage that most resembled racing on the other side of the Pyrénées.
Friday’s 101km stage over three first-category climbs looked more like a page from the Vuelta a España than the Tour’s typical, old-school playbook.
It was apt to see Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa — Spanish cycling’s past and future — join forces to try to blow up the race. Venga!
“I felt better today, and I wanted to do something different,” Contador said. “I didn’t want to stay in the group — I was happy to join Landa. We collaborated well.”
Ever the proud warrior, Contador jumped out of the GC group on the day’s first of three Cat. 1 climbs, and Landa, following team orders, hitched a wheel.
The duo couldn’t have made Spanish headline writers any happier, or the Spanish fans who poured over the border.
Even at 34, Contador is still king of the Spanish peloton. Though battered in this Tour, he still drives the narrative in the Spanish media. He’s the rider Spanish fans still love.
Landa, 27, is just the kind of rider the Spanish peloton desperately needs. He’s charismatic, brash, and most importantly, he’s a winner.
“Alberto was animating me to go full-gas,” Landa said. “He told me, ‘Let’s do something big! Let’s pull until we’re dead.’”
A winner of seven grand tours (or nine, depending on who’s counting), Contador remains the most successful grand tour rider in the peloton today. With his promising pedigree and climbing chops, Landa is poised to win grand tours. It seemed the baton was being passed from one to the other.
“I was doing all I could to help Landa,” Contador said. “It’s better to keep the Tour ‘in house.’”
On Friday, Contador said he was going all-in. Was Landa, too?
“We wanted to put pressure on Astana to pull,” Landa said. “It’s nice I am closer on GC. I have the legs, I just don’t have the ‘galones.’ [officer’s stripes] … Sure, one day I’d love to win the Tour, but right now, Froome is the clear leader here.”
Without a doubt Landa is just what the beleaguered Spanish peloton needs.
Contador, Samuel Sánchez, 39, and Alejandro Valverde, 37, are the last of the golden generation that kept Spain at the top of the elite peloton over the past 15 years. Only 13 Spanish riders started this Tour, the lowest in decades.
Although there are some other younger Spanish riders coming up, including Ion Izagirre and Marc Soler, no one packs the charisma and winning attitude like Landa.
The Basque rider has all the qualities to become a force in the peloton. His breakout performance came during the 2015 Giro d’Italia, when he won two stages and finished third overall. Teams came calling. He signed for Team Sky with the promise of leadership.
His two seasons at Sky have been inconsistent. Landa fell ill last year, and did not race the Giro. He bounced back to help Froome win a third Tour. This year, Team Sky sent Geraint Thomas to ride as co-captain in the Giro, but both went down on the crash to Blockhaus.
With a strong performance at the Tour, Landa is once again a sought-after rider. He reportedly has offers from several high-profile teams, but is expected to join Movistar.
Even with Nairo Quintana and Valverde at Movistar, there would be room for Landa, especially to race the Giro. And Movistar has the depth to bring a team to support him.
Friday’s breakaway effort also confirmed where each rider is in their personal trajectories. Contador was in stage-hunting mode, while Landa was bolstering his GC outlook.
It was fitting that Contador won the “most aggressive” prize in Friday’s action-packed stage. No rider has given more to the Tour in the past decade.
“This Tour hasn’t gone the way I wanted. After the crashes I had, it was just about surviving,” Contador said. “I am out of the GC in this Tour, so all I want to do is enjoy what’s left. I will do whatever I can so the public enjoys it as well.”
Landa is Spain’s new man, and everyone knows it.
When asked who will win this Tour, Landa replied with a smile, “Hopefully Chris … If not me.”