The race may not be going the way he's accustomed to, but Chris Froome welcomed Mikel Landa's leap up the overall standings on stage 13 of the Tour de France, arguing that the Spaniard is a "great card" tactically, and going as far as saying his teammate is now a "real threat" for the title.
Landa's strength, contrasting with a moment of weakness from Froome, was laid bare on the Peyragudes runway on Thursday afternoon, where faint shades of Froome's own rivalry with Bradley Wiggins unfolded on the same mountain and Team Sky DS Nicolas Portal appeared to admonish Landa outside the bus.
The notion that Landa could become a contender for this Tour de France was enhanced on Friday's explosive mountain stage, as the Spaniard went up the road with Alberto Contador. Having started the day 10th overall at 2:55, he was just 20 seconds off the virtual race lead at one point.
Froome, who attacked towards the top of the third and final climb, retained his leadership status in the team in the end, with the yellow jersey group finishing 1:49 down on Landa's group. Landa now sits fifth overall, 1:09 down on race leader Fabio Aru and 1:03 down on Froome.
"We saw yesterday that Mikel was feeling great so it was a great card for us to play today. I've got a lot of faith in Mikel and I think he showed that today," Froome told reporters outside the Team Sky bus in Foix.
"He's a real threat now for the overall title in Paris and it's a great card for us to play, especially when Astana don't have the numbers to control the race."
Froome and his team have found themselves in the novel position of having to race on the front foot, with tactical nous, in the second half of the Tour de France. In each of his three previous overall victories, he grabbed the yellow jersey early and defended it all the way to Paris – with the exception of a brief loan to Tony Martin in 2015.
"It was quite a great feeling to have to go out there and race for the win today as opposed to racing defensively and having that pressure of defending the jersey," said Froome. "It felt quite nice to have the shoe on the other foot."
The two stages in the Pyrenees have ended with Froome losing time to his rivals on the first day and failing to put time back into them on the second day. With another time trial looming on the penultimate stage, however, he can afford to be patient and, as the race transitions to the Alps via the Massif Central, he appeared to embrace the new tactical dimension Landa has provided.
"I'm very happy. For us, with Mikel moving up like that, that's a perfect position for us," he said.
"Especially going into some of the stages coming up, the big mountain stages, it could be a good card for us to play again."
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