If the idea that Mikel Landa (Team Sky) could be a threat for the Tour de France title, and indeed to his own team leader Chris Froome, had been sown on Peyragude's altiport runway the previous afternoon, it grew shoots on the explosive mountain stage to Foix on Friday.
Starting the day 10th overall, 2:55 down on race leader Fabio Aru (Astana) and 2:49 down on Froome, Landa jumped aboard when Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) went up the road on the first of three first-category climbs on the short 101km route. At one point, he was 20 seconds from taking the virtual lead of the race.
With Froome attacking towards the top of the final climb, Landa forged on to gain as much time as possible, eventually finishing 1:48 clear of the yellow jersey group, which moved him up into fifth overall, 1:09 down on Aru and 1:03 down on Froome.
"I'm very satisfied with what happened today," Landa told a group of reporters outside the Team Sky bus. Unlike Thursday's stage, where he unintentionally left Froome behind on the steep finish in Peyragude, his attack today was part of the tactical plan.
"Having me up the road obliged Aru and Bardet to close that gap," Landa said. "We wanted to make the most of that with Chris following the wheels. In the end, we didn't know whether to concentrate on the stage win or to try and gain as much time as possible, but I decided to try and gain as much time as possible."
Spanish-speaking media scrums tend to be far more entertaining and lively than English ones, what was put next to Landa was not so much a question as a rather bold statement.
"I see you as the leader of Sky," said the broadcast journalist.
"Oof," Landa responded. "Just as I said to you four days ago that the sensations were still improving after the Giro, there is also uncertainty over how long that will hold up for. So I'm going day-by-day, enjoying the moment, and what will be will be."
Aware that Landa had somewhat skirted around the question, the reporter tried again: "I see you as the leader of Sky."
Landa laughed, before replying: "Well you're seeing badly."
"But you have the legs…" continued the journalist.
"Yes, I have the legs. I don't have the status," he replied, this time addressing the matter head-on.
"We came with Chris, a rider who has won three Tours. I know my role. Obviously, I'd love to win the race and be the leader and all that, but I know my role, and we're here to win with him. From now we have a new kind of race, but the leader of the team is still Froome."
Froome himself praised Landa's move when giving his reaction outside the Sky bus and, perhaps conscious of the tens of poised television cameras, he made a point of going over to the Spaniard and patting him on the back with a smile.
Froome, ever since he took over from Wiggins, has been the undisputed leader at Sky with the yellow jersey usually on his shoulders, but he now finds himself in a position where he's chasing the lead in the second half of the race.
"Froome is happy with what happened today," said Landa. "We saw that Astana when things get tough they have quite a weak team. I think that having two cards, Chris and me, is favourable."
For the final question, Landa was asked: Who will win the Tour de France?
"Well, Chris, I hope," he said, pausing to laugh along. "And if not him, then me."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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