Landa saves time for Tour de France in Belgium.

E3, then Tour

Does 88th place, 14 minutes behind winner Niki Terpstra (Quickstep Floors) qualify as a triumph?

For Movistar captain Mikel Landa, the road to victory at the Tour de France runs through Belgium and E3 Harelbeke.

In preparation for the 15 sectors and 21.7 kilometers of cobblestone on the Tour’s stage nine, Landa decided to tackle the bone-rattling stones of E3 Harelbeke.

“I’ve never raced the cobbles before,” Landa said on the start line of Friday’s E3 Harelbeke. “I have some cobbled roads around home, but not like this. I have to learn how to take the fastest way over the cobbles. Learn to fight to keep my position. Also try the pressure in the tires.”

The Spaniard managed to finish just ahead of Sebastian Langeveld, Sacha Modolo and Alexey Lutsenko as they dragged across the finish line. Those three riders aren’t likely to be his significant rivals at Le Grand Shindig. He was at the very back of the race, just in front of a gaggle of DNF’s.

It was a painful effort at self-education and the benefits, if any, won’t be known until July when the Tour kicks off in the Vendee region. He got his shock treatment and we’ll see if that pays dividends.

You can tell immediately that Landa hasn’t ridden over many cobblestones — he viewed his day at E3 as a fun outing. “I’m not worried, I’m here to learn,” he said. “I’ll try to enjoy the day as much as possible.” Yes, enjoy, why not pack a picnic?

Landa made the trip to Belgium in March to cut his time losses in July. It’s not a bad idea to get ahead of yourself when the cobblestones are on the horizon. “A new Tour will start after that stage. It’ll be very important. It’s going to be a very hard stage. You can lose a lot. It’s going to be important to lose nothing.”

Clearly, Landa has a firm grip on basic math and the simple time calculations that decide who makes the podium and sprays champagne and who spends the next year replaying what-if scenarios. Landa and his Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana both want the top step.

Landa might have come in a lowly and unimpressive 88th place on the cobblestones of E3 Harelbeke. Then again, it’s just a stepping stone, right?

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