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Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Movistar quietly confident following first mountain test

With Landa and Quintana showing signs of life, Movistar enters the second week of the Tour de France with growing confidence.

Movistar’s fleet of climbers didn’t blow the wheels off anyone in Thursday’s first punch upward in this Tour de France, but that was just fine by them.

La Planche des Belles Filles might have been the 2019 Tour’s first mountaintop finale, yet it was far from ideal for the diesel engines that Movistar packs with Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa.

The co-leaders of Movistar’s two-pronged attack were more than pleased to only lose a fistful of seconds to their direct GC rivals, and they enter the Tour’s second week with growing optimism.

“There are many strong riders and we’re happy because we were right there with the best,” Quintana said. “I put my head down and drove it to the line.”

The final kilometer of La Planche, featuring a 24-percent ramp, saw Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) charge ahead of Quintana and Landa, who finished seven and nine seconds back, respectively, to the defending Tour champion.

The team took confidence because its leaders were right there, and they took important gains on others, including Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who both ceded time.

“They were both good,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. “The climb revealed how equal this Tour is right now. It was only the first sparks, the real fire will come later.”

Movistar revealed Thursday it will be ready to assert itself in the race for the podium, riding en masse at the front of the bunch over the penultimate climb. Landa went on a solo flier that confirmed the Spanish climber is feeling good after finishing fourth at the Giro d’Italia.

Mikel Landa put in a punchy attack on the final slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles, only to be brought back by the other GC contenders. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“We’ll see how the Giro affects me. It doesn’t worry me right now because I finished the Giro well and I am good coming into the Tour,” Landa said. “There are still not big differences between the favorites. The Pyrenees will be a different story.”

Many inside the Ineos bus fear Landa more than Quintana, and were quick to drive the pace to shut down the Spanish climber. Ineos sent out a message loud and clear to Landa and others that Thomas is up for the challenge of defending yellow.

“The race is still wide open,” Landa said. “It’s obvious that the time trial [stage 13 in Pau] is not in our favor, but we have to defend as well as we can. Right now we feel good, and we can aspire to reach the podium, and who knows, maybe more.”

Movistar knows it will have to go on the offensive if it wants to win the Tour. Losses in the team time trial in stage 2 mean that Quintana and Landa are already on the back foot. Quintana is 16th and Landa 17th, at 1:41 and 1:43 back, respectively, to leader Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), and still nearly a minute back to Thomas.

“It’s obvious that we have to attack to make up the time,” Landa said. “Ineos is not the same without Froome. He was very strong and never failed. We will see. They have Thomas and Bernal, so it’s going to be very difficult. We see small differences. It is still a long Tour. Anything can happen.”