Tour de France: Landa's brief moment of freedom on Izoard

In the end, the intrigue that had bubbled beneath the surface of the Tour de France since the Pyrenees was reduced to nothing. Chris Froome (Team Sky) would not falter in the Alps, and teammate Mikel Landa would not rip out his earpiece and go for his own glory, though the Spaniard did attack the yellow jersey group towards the top of the Col d'Izoard on Thursday.

After riding away from Froome on Peyragudes last week and gaining time in Foix the following day, Landa, depending on which way you looked at it, had either become a second tactical card for Sky, or a threat to Froome himself.

On the morning of Friday's stage to the Col d'Izoard, the second of two decisive days in the Alps, Sky director Nicolas Portal suggested they might try to get both on the podium, and Landa was duly allowed some room for manoeuvre, attacking from the reduced group of favourites 4km from the summit.

"We wanted to try and win the stage with Chris," Landa explained to reporters beyond the finish at the Col d'Izoard.

"My intention was to stay with Froome to set a good rhythm and then follow his attack. But I was allowed to go – I suppose to make the other rivals work."

When he attacked, Landa only had two riders up ahead of him, and he might have been entertaining hopes of a first Tour de France stage win. If the other GC contenders really stalled and called Froome's bluff, he might have been thinking about a podium position.

Froome, however, jumped on the wheel of Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) when the Irishman, well down in sixth place overall, accelerated, before wiping out Landa's advantage with a vicious acceleration of his own when only Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) were left.

"My attack was a bit of everything," said Landa. "I had the freedom. Maybe I needed to be a bit further back to fight for the stage win, but it made the rivals work."

Landa has been one of the standout riders in a Sky team that has been just as absurdly strong as in recent years, and only the biggest of surprises could deny Froome a fourth Tour de France title, with the Briton expected to increase his advantage in the penultimate-day time trial.

"Until you cross the finish line, you can't relax," Landa said. "But I think Chris is the favourite with the time trial. Until we're in Paris we're not going to relax, but we've taken another step."

Landa looks set to finish the race fourth overall. He is 19 seconds clear of weaker time triallist Fabio Aru (Astana), though his own weaknesses against the clock mean that he is unlikely to threaten the podium, with Uran and Bardet over a minute clear.

"I see the podium as a very difficult ask. It's one minute to those riders, who are very strong. I think it's complicated."

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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. 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 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, 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.