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by Caley Fretz
July 26, 2019
Nairo Quintana won Friday’s stage to Valloire, but it’s not entirely clear that he was supposed to.
Movistar is fractured, privately and publicly. Two of its three stars have been tied to other teams, or at the very least tied to leaving Movistar. None has performed to expectations this Tour de France. They sit in GC purgatory, in seventh, eighth, and 10th. This embarrassment of talent is dangerously close to just being an embarrassment.
Take the team’s reaction to Friday’s stage. Quintana, showing as much emotion as he ever really shows, spoke with reporters at the finish. “It was a really great day for me,” he said, stating the obvious. “And it was within the team strategy,” he said, stating the dubious.
Mikel Landa, now in eighth — one spot behind Quintana — was asked by NBC if the team will support the Colombian tomorrow. His answer wasn’t a word so much as a noise, which I shall spell “pffft.”
The team’s leader, the rider wearing 81, just won a stage of the Tour de France, and at the same time rode into the top 10, and as he was on his way to doing so, his own teammates pulled his gap down from behind.
The explanation, ostensibly, is that Movistar was concerned for the GC positions of the other two, Landa and Alejandro Valverde. Why pull? “Because we also have some guys to do something on the GC,” Landa said.
On the slopes of the Izoard, Movistar put Marc Soler on the front. It looked like they were setting up Landa for another early attack, à la the Mur de Peguere on stage 15, but it never came. So all they did was pull back three minutes of the eight-minute advantage held by their own teammate. Subtract even one minute from Quintana’s GC time now and he’s suddenly in the same 60-second window as Emmanuel Buchmann, Steven Kruijswijk, Thibaut Pinot, Geraint Thomas, and Egan Bernal.
“We wanted to put ourselves in the right position for winning the stage, and for Mikel Landa to improve his GC position,” Quintana said, mere minutes after he’d passed Landa on GC.
“We started with the idea of acting as bridges for Mikel,” he added. This makes sense. “Checking that we had enough space, they slowed behind and bet on my victory.”
These odd tactical decisions to not exist in a vacuum. The context is not particularly complicated: Quintana is off to Arkea-Samsic at the end of this season, his father just confirmed. Mikel Landa, as of the middle of this race, was still without a contract from Movistar. Alejandro Valverde, meanwhile, is sticking with the team.
Last week on the way to Prat d’Albis, Landa rode alone, off the front, in an early move that began on the Mur de Peguere and was designed to sneak time away from his GC rivals. On the lower slopes of Prat d’Albis he rode through the day’s early breakaway. That breakaway contained Nairo Quintana, who had haemorrhaged time a few days earlier, and was thought to be out of the GC hunt.
Normally, Quintana would pace his teammate as much as possible, then swing off. Instead, the two didn’t even look at each other. Quintana rode on; Landa did too. And as of today, Quintana and Landa sit right next to each other on the overall, with two big mountain stages to go.
So when Quintana says “There is no conflict and I’m not upset with [the team],” maybe the best response is Landa’s own: