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Inside the Tour de France: Team Sky’s déjà vu at the tightest Tour for years

Laura Meseguer
17 Jul 2017

Eurosport's Laura Meseguer looks forward to a crucial week amid surprising contenders and an incredibly tight battle at the top

'I don't remember a General Classfication as tight as this in all my days at the Tour de France.'

So said Alberto Contador at the start of Stage 15 of the 2017 Tour de France in Laissac, having finally recovered his smile after signing a truce with the tarmac, both parties agreeing not to crash into one another.

Contador's ninth place at the General Classification, in part the result of his earlier altercations with the road surface, have put him in the rare position of being able to analyse the race from a distance.

But while he may be out of contention for the win, we can expect Contador to become a major disrupter in the mountains of the third week.

Of course, even Contador's experience doesn't give him the ability to choose the whens and wheres of a successful attack. But for anyone looking to tighten up the race, his will be a good wheel to follow, as Mikel Landa did on the way to Foix on Friday.

The breakaway of the Basque rider on Friday not only put the Tour’s favourites on alert, but the whole of Team Sky itself too.

With team leader Chris Froome second in the General Classification, six seconds behind the Italian Fabio Aru, the team's focus remains the rider looking for his fourth Tour win, and his third in succession.

Yet it’s funny to think that Landa could have taken the yellow jersey himself had Froome not attacked on the Mur de Péguère. Either way, he couldn't have picked a better break to be part of, with Barguil, Contador and Quintana an incredibly strong trio but no real threat to the main GC contenders. Ironically, it's partly through their efforts that Landa now is.

‘That was a sign of weakness,' were the whispers that surrounded the team buses after what seemed like a decision from Sky, or Froome, for him to ride against Landa. ‘Why miss the opportunity of having two men at the top of the General Classification?’

A new order

Mikel Landa is probably the strongest rider at the Tour de France, and the general opinion is that he is capable of winning the race. It’s hard not to get a sense of déjà vu and think of the 2012 Tour de France where Bradley Wiggins was the leader of Team Sky and Froome his domestique.

The difference is this isn't the first time Landa finds himself in this situation.

In the 2015 Giro d’Italia Landa was an Astana rider, and his sport director at that time, Giuseppe Martinelli, asked Landa to wait and work for Aru, saying afterwards that Landa would have won the race himself had he not done so.

In the end, Contador won that Giro and was flanked by the two Astana riders on the podium. 

A few months later, at the Vuelta a España, when Martinelli again asked Landa to wait, during the queen stage in Andorra, he took off his radio and won the stage.

A few days later, however, in the crucial stage in the mountains in Madrid, he sacrificed himself for Aru and the team to take the overall victory from Tom Dumoulin

Landa deserves a team where he can finally be a leader and show how far he can get. If rumours are confirmed, he will sign with Movistar next year and hopefully they will make the most of him.

The Spanish golden generation is getting old, so it’s surely time to give the Basque rider an opportunity. 

Back to the Tour, though, and Landa is firm about his place in the team and the race. A couple of days ago he told me, ‘I will contain myself and will work for the good of the team’.

He showed that on Sunday, waiting for Froome after a mechanical problem that threatened his lead in the race. 

That wasn’t all that happened during the climb to Peyra Taillade, though. In the kilometres that Froome rode isolated the fans booed him, and we were puzzled.

The only explanation I can offer is that the fans are hopeful of a new winner in Paris after years of Sky dominance at the Tour, but it doesn’t excuse such a bad attitude.

In a race like the Tour it is a shame to see anything but support for the riders, no matter where they come from or which jersey they wear. One thing for certain is that Chris Froome is a gentleman and a fair player, and he showed this again in how he handled the matter.

Let the games begin

As for the overall situation, the race hasn't been as open as this for years. The signs of weakness from Froome are giving his rivals new energy to keep atacking each other in the last hard ramps. It’s these short and sharp attacks that are proving to be the most decisive.

One thing Froome’s rivals have in common in their tactical bravery, which means we have a guaranteed battle every day. The attacks are coming from all sides too. 

Romain Bardet is proving to be a serious rival this year, and all signs suggest he will continue to flourish for years of the Tour de France.

Many of us have been celebrating the return to top form of Rigoberto Uran, as well as the ideal shape of Dan Martin for their role in animating the race.

After his debut in 2016, where he took 19th place in the General Classification, 19 minutes behind Froome, Aru was certain the Tour was not a race for him, and he would never be able to win it.

The race was not even part of his original calendar for 2017, with the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España being his key goals. Going into the final six stages, he's had two days in the yellow jersey and is still second in the GC, just 18 seconds down. 

Being among the riders, you can feel how much the favourites for the General Classification are enjoying a race where, for a change, the winner will be decided entirely in the last week.

Ahead sits the Col du Télégraphe, the Col du Galibier, the Col d'Izoard, and plenty of other terrain for ambushes – for as we have seen over and over in this Tour, not everything is decided in the mountains.

So I don’t see the favourites for the overall victory unwinding during today’s rest day, but I imagine them biting their nails while poring over maps, searching out for the time and place for that perfect final attack.

Who will win in Paris? Luckily it's still anyone’s guess. 

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