In this corner, in Movistar kit, at 5’8″ and 60 kilos, Spain’s hero and Basque climber, Mikel Landa. In the other corner, also in Movistar colors, the hope of Colombia and all of South America, at 5’6″ and 56 kilos soaking wet, Nairo Quintana. This will be a 21 stage fight and the winner will be declared by kick-box knockout.
That’s the scenario that Landa set in inevitable motion as he announced his plans to the assembled media at the Vuelta a Espana route presentation this Saturday. He stated he was definitely skipping the 2018 Giro d’Italia to focus on the Tour de France, where he finished one second off the podium in last year’s edition.
While everyone will trot out the time-honored “road will decide” cliche, Movistar will bring Landa, Quintana and option C, Alejandro Valverde, to Le Grand Shindig. In the best of circumstances, it’s a delicate and dangerous juggling act and at worst — and far more likely — it’s a recipe for ego, selfishness and back-stabbing.
While there’s not the obvious personal and very public dislike between the two Movistar captains as there was when Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong shared the captain role in the Tour while at Astana, the stated ambitions of the two men have zero to do with helping the other man win the Tour.
Nevertheless, Landa is keeping up the public pretense that he’s all about sharing despite his vow to never, ever be put in a situation again in Le Tour where he sacrifices his chances of victory for a teammate — be it Fabio Aru or Chris Froome or by implication Nairo Quintana.
“It’s all fine. I’ve been in this situation before, and we’re both clear that we’re racing for Movistar, and we’ll start out [the season] as leaders, together with Valverde. Then the road will decide,” said Landa.
Ahh, there it is. The dispassionate and level-headed road making critical decisions, setting team priorities and modulating ambitions. Good luck to sports director Eusebio Unzue in refereeing the cage match. We’d pay money to join the team for dinner every night during the Tour. Newsflash: “Landa refuses to pass pasta bowl to Quintana. Team meal descends into chaos as Quintana attacks Landa with steak knife.”
Still, Movistar has six months to play up the “We’re stronger together” story” with lots of generalized quotes about this being the best strategy for taking on Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome — should he somehow survive a suspension for his salbutamol adverse analytical finding. (Everybody knows the Tour is up for grabs with Froome potentially sidelined.)
“We’ve got a strong team with Movistar to take on Sky if Froome finally does race. Tom Dumoulin won’t be taking part and riders like Urán and Bardet are very similar to me when it comes to time trialling. It’s going to be a very motivating year.”
Yes, highly motivating but perhaps not conducive to Tour harmony at Movistar.