Miguel Indurain once described Mikel Landa as "an old-school racer capable of the best and the worst of performances", but if he watched Sunday's stage of the Tour de France, Indurain might well have added "and the most unpredictable."
Landa was the only one of the GC favourites in the yellow jersey group willing to launch a long-distance attack on the Mur de Péguère, and at the finish 40 kilometres further on at the finish, only a climber of the calibre of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) proved able to regain contact with the fast-moving Basque.
Having attacked along on the Mur de Péguère's steepest slopes, chapter two of Landa's audacious challenge came when he managed to regain contact with two of Movistar's three men from the early break of the day, Marc Soler and Andrey Amador.
After Soler and Amador had then given Landa an armchair ride to the foot of the Prat d'Albis, Landa then hammered off on a solo run on the final climb, overtaking the remnants of the early break in the process, including Movistar's third man from the break, Nairo Quintana.
Landa later revealed that Movistar's initial plan had been for Quintana, who gave up on his GC aspirations on Saturday, to go for the stage win. When that failed to materialise, he opted to go for his own chances again.
"We had a plan, which was to get somebody in the break and when we ended up with three riders in there, we thought about Nairo," Landa said. "Then when we saw that the stage win was impossible" – after the two Simons, Geschke (CCC) and Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had attacked on the Mur de Péguère - "I decided to go for it from a long way out."
The lack of coordination between Landa and Quintana was palpable when he reached the Colombian, the last Movistar survivor from the early break.
Landa barely exchanged a few words with Quintana before he blasted away, with Quintana getting dropped in the process as the break crumbled under the impact of Landa's attack. After Movistar's strategy on Saturday of driving at the front had already seen Quintana struggle, this was the second time in 24 hours the Colombian has suffered – albeit unintentionally – at the hands of his own teammates.
Asked about Quintana, all Landa would say was "it was a pity he couldn't help more than he did. A couple of kilometres of work for me would have been welcome."
His words compared starkly with his praise for Amador and Soler, saying: "they're great teammates, very dedicated, and they worked brilliantly to bring me to the foot of the final climb."
Already fourth in the Giro d'Italia, Landa is currently by far the strongest overall performer across the two Grand Tours this year, but he refuses to rule out battling for the podium.
At the moment, the Basque has moved up to seventh overall, four places higher than he was on Saturday night, and is 4:54 down on race leader Julian Alaphlippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step). He also received the 'Most Combative Rider' award on the stage.
Never unambitious when asked whether he wanted stage wins or the overall, Landa simply answered that he wanted "everything. If I'm fighting for stages, then I will be closer on GC so why not go for the podium? Why not?
"In the Alps we will have stages going to altitudes of 2,000 metres on three very demanding days." Never short of a high-flowing soundbite or six, Landa concluded that, "Landismo" – which translates very roughly from Spanish as 'those who believe in Mikel Landa as a rider', a group which doubtless includes the man himelf – "never dies."
Certainly given Landa appeared to have given up the ghost on the Tour de France after stage 10's echelon crash, telling the world that he needed "time to mourn my loss" and to "leave him in peace," the Basque certainly seems to have resuscitated his challenge in spectacular fashion.
And he's getting quickly back to his old tricks of surprising the cycling world, too. Team-wise Movistar's tactics on Sunday, as well, seemed to be far more finely honed than on Saturday, when their bludgeoning the front group to bits on the Tourmalet achieved little bar shooting its GC options in the foot in spectacular style.
"You never know how things will work out, one day you're up there, the next you're down below," Landa concluded, "that's cycling." And that, too, is Mikel Landa.
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