Movistar started this year’s Tour de France with three leaders and with the billing as the team with the strongest chance of breaking Team Sky’s stronghold on the race. Almost two weeks in, the Spanish team’s overall challenge is still struggling to come together.
The team was caught out when echelons formed in the opening kilometres of stage 14 on Saturday, and though they maintained their overall positions of sixth and eighth, respectively, Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana did not have the legs to follow the top four on the steep Cote de la Croix Nueve. Having given away 47 seconds on the Alpe d’Huez, Quintana did show some signs of recovery in Mende.
The Colombian limited his losses to 18 seconds to Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), and 10 to Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). Quintana took some solace in that and said that the cooler weather of 22 degrees helped him perform better.
“The most important thing today is that I’m back to the pace of the strongest riders, and it’s even more rewarding to see myself so close on such a steep finish," Quintana said. "I lacked some energy in the final part, but I’m satisfied with my effort. It was also significant for the result that we didn’t have the same heat in the final as we did before. In the most intense efforts, my body reacts better in these conditions. Let’s hope we enjoy this weather in the final week.
“Our confidence remains high, we won’t settle. We’ve got to keep fighting to take some victory or achieve some of the goals we had before the start. We’ve lost time, but we’re not surrendering.”
Landa saw his turn of fortunes head in the opposite direction to Quintana. The Spaniard had managed to hold the top riders to seven seconds on the much tougher ascent of the Alpe d’Huez, but the shorter, punchier climb to the Aerodrome undid him slightly, and he lost 29 seconds to Froome et al. It wasn’t before he tried upping the pace of the front of the group of favourites to see how they were feeling.
“I wanted to give it a try, to see what my chances were and check who was doing better or worse inside that group, but in the end, the one with the worst legs was me,” he said with a wry laugh. “I was too optimistic with that move, and I paid my effort. I was lucky to have Alejandro Valverde in that group. He worked so hard in the finale to help me not lose time.”
Almost a week on from getting into a scrape with the tarmac of Northern France on stage 9, Landa is still having to work through the pain. More than most, he is eager to get to the second rest day and give his back some much needed R&R.
“My back still hurts quite a bit,” Landa said. “I just want for the rest day to come, so I can recover better. The wear and tear from the two weeks of racing, my crash last Sunday, it all combines to make me suffer. My main goal is to recover and then see what we can do in the Pyrenean stages.”