Mikel Landa delivered on his pre-race promise to attack from afar in Friday’s stage 19 at the Tour de France. Things didn’t go the way he’d hoped they would, but the Spaniard had no regrets about making one last attempt at a high-mountain raid in what has been a frustrating Tour for his Movistar squad.
“When we started on the Tourmalet we knew it would be really hard. For a moment, I started to believe it was possible to win the stage and maybe even end up on the GC podium,” he said. “Then I realized it wasn’t. But we had to fight.”
The final mountain stage of the Tour was one last chance for Landa to join teammate Nairo Quintana as a stage winner in this year’s race, which has not gone according to plan for Movistar. Each of the team’s three co-leaders — Quintana, Landa, and Alejandro Valverde — lost time early on and never really challenged for the yellow jersey. Quintana at least salvaged something from the race with an impressive stage 17 victory. The Colombian took a hard fall in stage 18, however, leaving it up to Landa to try his luck on the road to Laruns.
He said on Thursday that Movistar needed to go long, and that’s exactly what he did the following day.
Landa jumped into a move on the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet with Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), and they were soon joined by other strong climbers like Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) in pursuit of the early breakaway. After going up and over the hors categorie climb near the midway point of the stage, Landa’s group made the catch on the ensuing descent.
With no shortage of talented riders in the escape, it looked like a dangerous move. Movistar’s Andrey Amador, who had been in the initial break, hammered away at the front to pull the group along, helping extend the gap out to over three minutes. For a short time, Landa was in virtual second place in the general classification, but it was not to last.
In contrast to prior mountain stages, Sky was not the only team making a sustained effort in the GC group. In an attempt to isolate Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, LottoNL-Jumbo hit the front and set a strong tempo in the reduced peloton, spelling trouble for the escapees.
The way Landa saw it, cooperation in the break was lacking as well.
“Unfortunately, it was a really hard day, with descents in which we really had to pedal, and breakaway companions that sometimes didn’t give all they had,” he said.
The break’s advantage dwindled on the category two Col des Bordères, and it was well under two minutes at the start of the Col d’Aubisque. Landa, Bardet, and Majka saw their chances at a stage win slipping away and attacked out of the remnants of the break. They held on until the second half of the tough final climb but were ultimately all reeled in, with Majka the last man out front before a divebombing Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) brought him to heel. With the road tilting downhill to the finish, the door for Landa to snatch a stage win from this frustrating Tour was shut.
Roglic went on to take the victory. Landa settled for a combativity award.
He did also manage to move one spot up in the general classification, from seventh to sixth, but only because his bruised and battered teammate Quintana struggled on the final climbs and came home over seven minutes behind Roglic. That saw the two-time Tour runner-up tumble down to ninth overall.
With only Saturday’s stage 20 time trial and Sunday’s sprinter-friendly finale left, Landa will have to be content with his GC top 10 and Movistar’s commanding lead in the teams’ classification — which the teams themselves tend to celebrate more than fans.
Still, he was not ruing his Tour campaign after Friday’s stage, finding reasons to be content after a few tough breaks early on, including a hard crash in stage 9.
“It’s the first year I’ve really tried to do something in the Tour,” he said. “Last year I was fourth but riding for someone else. I’m satisfied to end up where I have.”
Andrew Hood contributed to this report from Laruns, France.