Movistar co-leader Mikel Landa finished stage 8 of the Tour de France on Saturday full of praise for one of his biggest rivals – Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot – after the Frenchman slipped away from the group of GC contenders on the final climb of the day to Saint-Etienne with new overall race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
"Pinot has been doing great since the start of the race," Landa admitted on his team's website. "He's always been a rider to follow in Grand Tours, and seems to be in excellent condition here. He gained some time on all of us and will surely be a big contender.
"But at the end of the day, there are still so many favourites in the mix, and before we get to the tougher mountain stages in the Pyrenees, the group of candidates isn't likely to be reduced, and it will be harder to know which wheel you should follow when they attack," the Spanish rider said, perhaps highlighting what could now be a genuine difficulty in the coming days as the GC contenders attempt to steal a march on each other ahead of the serious climbing.
Landa – a similarly aggressive rider to Pinot, whose role at this race is as a co-leader with 2015 Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana – may seek to take a page from the Frenchman's book and try to show his intent before the first true mountain stage in the Pyrenees on Thursday.
"It was such a tough day," Landa said. "It was a really high pace all day, a gruelling stage, and everyone was struggling near the end."
Quintana remains just a place, and two seconds, ahead of Landa in the overall classification, in 14th place, 1:11 behind Pinot and 52 seconds back from defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos).
"It was a very nervous day, with short, steep, power climbs," added Quintana. "We tried to follow those wheels we were most interested in. Pinot continued to gain some time, yet it was against all other contenders this time.
"Surely Alaphilippe and him knew the route well," the Colombian added of the two Frenchmen. "They might well have raced on these roads as younger riders, and knew they could take advantage on the final section.
"With those doubts in the GC group about who wanted to pull or rather follow wheels, they took advantage to put some seconds into us," he said.
"The Ineos crash?" Quintana continued when asked about Thomas' and his teammates' crash on a descent in the final 15km. "I was some metres behind them, and was fortunate not to crash with them."