The Pyrenees had seen Mikel Landa emerge at the heart of one of the biggest points of intrigue at the Tour de France, yet all the talk of 'cards' and even internal rivalry seemed to be nipped in the bud in the Massif Central on Sunday, with the Spaniard slotting straight back into pure domestique duty.
After riding away from team leader Chris Froome at the Peyragudes summit finish, and breaking away on the short stage to Foix, Landa jumped to fifth overall, yet Froome's surprise retrieval of the yellow jersey on Saturday cast the 2015 Giro d'Italia podium finisher back into his former role.
With the team back in yellow, control was once again the order, and when Froome was cut adrift on the approach to the first-category Col de Peyra Taillade on Sunday, Landa was ordered to drop from the group of favourites to help pace Froome back into contention.
"The team told me to drop back. It was Sergio [Henao] and [Mikel] Nieve with him on the final climb, and when they weren't able to stay with him anymore, I had to stop," Landa explained to reporters in Le Puy-en-Velay.
"I joined him, and we tried to save the day."
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Landa had said on Friday that he would love to win the Tour de France and be the top dog, but that he knew his place. Nevertheless, his maverick streak is no secret after his 2015 season at Astana, where he was forced to sacrifice himself for Fabio Aru at the Giro before ripping out his earpiece to win the queen stage of the Vuelta.
Asked if he was annoyed at being ordered to leave the group of favourites to sacrifice himself for Froome, his tone was one of acceptance.
"Everyone has their way of seeing things," he said. "You can't please everyone."
The Spanish broadcast journalists who, given the lacklustre nature of Alberto Contador's Tour de France, have swarmed around Landa the past few days, are clearly itching to bring out the 27-year-old's devilish side. One put it to him that Froome looked to be struggling as he followed the wheel back up to the GC group, hinting that Landa is the stronger rider at Sky.
"It's normal, isn't it? He had just done a big extra effort, so it's normal that that takes its toll," Landa replied.
"I think he's in really good shape. To salvage the situation he faced today, that shows he's pretty good."
As for his own form, Landa says he's feeling strong but once again pointed out that the exertions of May's Giro d'Italia could make themselves felt at any point.
"I don't really know [how good I'll be in the third week]. I'll tell you Tuesday," he said. "For now I'm feeling really good, and I hope it's the same on Tuesday and beyond, too."
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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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