If at first you don’t succeed — attack, attack again.
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- Tour de France: Stages
- Commentary: Will a stage win and polka dots salvage Ineos Grenadiers’ Tour de France?
That was the mantra of Mikel Landa during Thursday’s 18th stage of the Tour de France, which featured a sharks tooth-like profile across the high Alps. One day after Landa had his Bahrain-McLaren teammates punish the peloton on the slopes of the Col de la Loze, he again went on the offensive, this time on the Plateau des Gliéres.
As the group of GC favorites labored up the steep penultimate climb of the day, Landa bolted from the group alongside teammate Damiano Caruso in a 1-2 punch that appeared to catch his rivals by surprise. Caruso set a hard tempo for Landa as the two sped away from the bunch, while Jumbo-Visma came to the front of the pack to increase the tempo for race leader Primož Roglič.
“After yesterday’s stage I think our team was feeling very motivated and very confident,” Landa said. “I hope our fans enjoyed, and know that we tried to do something today.”
As Jumbo-Visma upped the tempo, a few GC stars were spat out the back. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling) both lost the group and faded on the climb.
Landa’s aggression marked a turnaround from his dismal ride on Wednesday.
Landa and his Bahrain-McLaren team became the subject of jokes on social media on Wednesday after their aggression on the Col de la Loze bore no fruit. Landa was dropped shortly after his final Bahrain-McLaren peeled off the diminished front group, and the Basque rider crossed the line 1:20 behind winner Miguel Ángel López. The time loss bore a fatal blow to Landa’s hunt for the final podium in Paris.
Despite the setback, Bahrain-McLaren showed early aggression on Thursday. Pello Bilbao attacked into the day’s early breakaway alongside eventual winner Michał Kwiatkowski and his Ineos Grenadiers teammate Richard Carapaz. Team management told Bilbao to try and win the stage, in what is just his second Tour de France.
“I saw a good opportunity to fight for the stage; also if my job was not needed for Mikel I had the freedom to go for the stage,” Bilbao said.
Bilbao rode alongside the Ineos duo until the top of the Plateau des Gliéres, when the hard tempo set by Carapaz slowly pushed him off the back. As the two Ineos Grenadiers rode on toward the stage win, Bilbao continued to pedal up the climb. The situation was strangely beneficial for the Bahraini team, as it occurred just as Landa attacked.
Thus, Bilbao waited on the road for Landa to ride up to him.
“In the end, I couldn’t fight for the stage victory. It’s a pity but almost in the same moment I was losing, I was hearing that Mikel was attacking from behind,” Bilbao said. “So, I had one more reason to continue fighting I wait for him, and some important guys in the GC were dropped, so I had another opportunity to do a good job in the front.”
Landa was joined by an elite group containing top GC stars Primož Roglič, Tadej Pogačar, Enric Mas, and Miguel Ángel López. When the group reached Bilbao, Landa has his teammate ride on the front to push the pace. Eventually, Bahrain-McLaren was aided by Jumbo-Visma, and the group rode all the way to the line together.
While the aggression did not push Landa into the podium, it did help him vault two spots forward on general classification. He now sits in 5th place overall, just 22 seconds out of Richie Porte’s fourth place, and 2:01 behind López in third.
“We had a good strategy and we dropped some contender,” Landa said. “It’s difficult not to be better. But we tried and I hope you all enjoyed the day.”