Landa performs strongly in the Pyrenees
The start of Team Bahrain-McLaren into this year’s Tour de France was very unlucky. Thanks to strong performances in the Pyrenees the team’s captain Mikel Landa has moved up tp 10th place in the overall standings. His climbing form looks promising for the remaining twelve stages of the race.
No matter if the Tour de France starts in July as usual or in late August as it does this year, this stage race is crucial both for the sponsors and the athletes as the highlight of the cycling season. At the start in Nice, Team Bahrain-McLaren lined up a selection of riders that was tailored to support its captain Mikel Landa: No less than four strong climbers were nominated in his support with Pello Bilbao, Damiano Caruso, Wout Poels and Rafael Valls. Adding to the team’s muscle in flatter stages were Sonny Colbrelli, Marco Haller and Matej Mohoric. With this strong team riding in his support, Mikel Landa got to chase his own ambitions at the Tour de France for the first time ever, aiming for an overall podium in Paris. In short, Team Bahrain-McLaren entered this Grand Tour with high ambitions, and many pundits considered the team as a relevant player in the fight for the yellow jersey.
But with three kilometers to go in the first rain-soaked stage around Nice, a large pile-up brought down a lot of riders. Probably the worst hit of all was Rafael Valls who broke his right femur and was forced to abandon the race on the first day. Wout Poels suffered a cracked rib and a lung contusion, but the Dutchman decided to ride on. After this blow in the first stage, Team Bahrain-McLaren’s riders fully focussed on their task of protecting its captain Mikel Landa at all times. At the end of the fourth stage, the Basque climber showed a strong ride on the final ascent to Orcières-Merlette, finishing the stage in 9th place. Both Mikel Landa and Damiano Caruso repeated this feat at the end of the sixth stage, matching the climbing speed of the other overall contenders on the way to Mont Aigoual.
Sadly the seventh stage showed how tricky a three-week stage race is from Team Bahrain-McLaren’s perspective. In the fight for the green jersey Team Bora-Hans Grohe had set a furious pace from the start, splitting the peloton into three pieces that would never get back together on the day. The riders in red, papaya and black managed to get five riders into the first group and looked to have been in the right spot, But when the finale got going Matej Mohoric and Pello Bilbao crashed when passing through a village. Only moments after the first echelons started to form, and this time the riders of Team Bahrain-McLaren were caught on the wrong foot. Once he reached the finish, Mikel Landa had conceded 1.21 minutes to many of his overall rivals. At least the team seemed unfazed by this mishap throughout the following two days in the Pyrenees, when Pello Bilbao and Damiano Caruso managed to support their captain deep into the finales of both stages.
As for Mikel Landa, the team’s captain performed strongly in the mountains: As for the eighth stage, the early attackers got to fight for the stage win while the fight of the favorites really heated up on the Port de Balès and the Peyresourde. Landa showed his class on the Peyresourde in particular where he controlled all of his rivals but Tadej Pogacar. The same hierarchy showed on the second Pyrenees stage and on the steep slopes of the Col de Marie Blanque as the day’s final climb. Again Pogacar was the most aggressive rider, and again Mikel Landa managed to match the speed of the best climbers. When the Basque rider teamed up with Roglic, Pogacar and Bernal to get back to solo leader Marc Hirschi, the stage win came into reach. This was not to be, but with a 5th place Landa scored his best stage result of this year’s Tour de France, and in the overall standings he moved up to 10th place before the first rest day of the race.
Starting tomorrow Monday, Team Bahrain-McLaren will be competing at the 55th edition of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race as well. This year’s edition features three stages made for sprinters, two stages each for strong finisseurs and for the pure climbing specialists and a conclusive individual time trial. The selection of riders that Team Bahrain-McLaren lines up for this race has ambitions in all stages: As for the sprints, Phil Bauhaus and Ivan Garcia Cortina have already won races this year, and they can rely on the highly experienced support of Heinrich Haussler. The steep ramps of the Loreto stage are perfect for the likes of Dylan Teuns and Mark Padun. As the team’s designated captain for the overall standings, Austrian climber Hermann Pernsteiner will focus on the queen’s stage and the individual time trial on the last day may well be an opportunity for Jan Tratnik to show his strengths.