We Need To Talk About…Mikel Landa

Welcome to a new feature which allows you, the reader, to contribute to debates on the most controversial and exciting topics in the pro cycling world. Each week, you’ll find the topic up for discussion on the Freewheeling Twitter page – so add @FreewheelingBlog if you want to join in! If you have any suggestions for discussion topics please feel free to write in, there’s always something getting pro cycling fans hot under the helmet, there’ll be plenty to talk about!

First up, We Need to Talk About...Mikel Landa

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Landa, with fellow Spaniard Contador on his wheel, during the 2017 Tour de France. Photo: Eurosport ES

Who? Mikel Landa, Spanish rider currently signed for Team Sky. Landa is a talented climber from the Basque Country, who announced himself as a rider to watch whilst riding in support of Fabio Aru at Astana during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Notable Achievements? Landa had a successful 2014, winning a stage at the Giro de Trentino and providing support to Fabio Aru at the Giro d’Italia.

It was his compelling ride at the 2015 Giro d’Italia that really put his name on the map however. Landa’s job for Astana at the Giro was to ride as a domestique for team leader Fabio Aru. Aru showed patchy form throughout the race, yet his Spanish domestique was putting on a strong display, and found himself at the sharp end of the General Classification. Landa was the beneficiary of a controversial commisaires’ decision when Richie Porte was given a time penalty for accepting a wheel change from fellow Aussie rider Simon Clarke. Unfortunately, the comradely gesture damaged Porte’s GC chances as Clarke, whilst coming from the same country as Richie, was not from the same team, making the wheel change an illegal race move. Landa was promoted to third on GC as a result of Porte’s time penalty.

Although Aru finished the race ahead of Landa as second on GC, Landa was also on the podium in third. Landa had, on occasion, shown himself to be stronger than his team leader, notably on the Madonna di Campiglio climb, where he finished the stage 6 seconds ahead of Aru. Landa took two stage wins in the 2015 Giro, and moved ahead of Aru in GC by the end of stage 18, although this situation had been reversed by the end of the race. Some of the set piece battles had been between the two Spaniards Contador and Landa, and there was a feeling that the race would have been even more compelling if Landa hadn’t been ostensibly riding for Fabio Aru.

Why do we need to talk about Mikel Landa? As we saw with the 2015 Giro, the role of domestique can be a difficult one if you find yourself in an unofficial competition with your own team leader for a position in the General Classification. This year, now riding for Team Sky, Landa found himself in the eye of the storm when he rode away from Chris Froome on stage 12 of the Tour de France. Accused of ‘not looking back to find Froome’, Landa pressed ahead during the final 200 metres of the stage to Peyragudes, keeping his foot on the gas whilst Froome slowly deflated behind him, losing both time and the yellow jersey in the process.

Upon returning to the team bus, directeur sportif Nicholas Portal was seen angrily speaking with Landa in full view of the awaiting media, the facial expressions and gesticulations leaving the viewer in no doubt as to the nature of the confrontation. Landa’s words to the press following stage 12 didn’t do much to smooth the situation. “The stage victory was being played out, it didn’t occur to me to look back” being one of many pointed comments about the race situation and Sky’s curtailing of his hopes and clipping of his wings.

Landa finished the Tour in 4th place, just 1 second off the podium – something he blamed on the tactics employed by the team. Although Landa has taken great care to point out that he has no hard feelings towards the eventual winner Chris Froome, he did speak to the Spanish press where he made his feelings about Team Sky plain. Claiming that he was never allowed to reach his full potential during the 2017 Tour, particularly on the Izoard stage, Landa spoke of his promising attack as the race leaders neared the summit – which ultimately came to nothing. “Froome was telling me to go slower, slower, slower. ..I was very angry that day because I sacrificed myself without making any gains for the team”.

Standing on the podium in Paris with his Sky colleagues as winners of the team competition, Landa cut a desolate figure, unable to raise a smile with his feelings etched into a frustrated and pained facial expression. “I don’t want to be in this situation again, it’s so frustrating!”. Landa is rumoured to be transferring to the Movistar team next season, where it is said that he will lead the team at the Giro, a race which seems to be well suited to his riding style, with Quintana targetting the Tour. This should negate any problems with leadership questions. Chris Boardman summed up the Landa-Froome situation in one pertinent sentence – “That’s what happens when you make a team out of team leaders”.

Here’s what Freewheeling’s Twitter followers had to say about Landa venting his feelings after the race to the Spanish press…..

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Four Wins, Four Things….

In honour of Chris Froome’s 4th Tour de France win, we look back at 4 things we learned from the 104th edition of the race…..

1) Team Sky can multi task.

Not content with having the rider who completed the course in the shortest amount of time on the team, Sky was also home to the rider who rode round France the slowest – Luke Rowe was this year’s Lanterne Rouge, 4 hours behind his leader Chris Froome.

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Road Captain, Lanterne Rouge….Team Sky show they can munti task with Luke Rowe

2) Team Sky have a thing about numbers…

It looks like 4 might well be Team Sky’s lucky number, which is good, because 9 clearly isn’t. Geraint Thomas crashed out of the race on Stage 9, on July 9th, wearing race number 9. Thomas had been in an excellent position at the Giro a few months earlier when a crash on Stage 9 of the Italian tour caused injuries which eventually saw Team Sky pull him from the race. (There was another 9 involved there too, as Thomas wore number 179, ooh spooky!) Perhaps next year they’ll put Geraint in the number 8 or something, or rename Stage 9 as Stage 8+1. One thing’s for sure, he won’t have the option of turning his race number upside down as is customary for rider 13. (I’ll leave you to think about that for a second – it took me a while to work out why that wouldn’t work….slow day, call me Rowe!)

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This is what happens when you wear number 9 apparently…Geraint’s jersey following his race-ending crash ob the Mont du Chat stage

3) It’s not all about Froome – Landa vs Portal, Kwiatokowski vs rear wheels.

This Tour gave us shades of the 2012 Wiggins v Froome drama when Mikel Landa rode away from a clearly struggling Froome in the closing 200m of the stage to Peyragudes. Briefly stumbling to work out why, commentators seemed relieved when some clever spark suggested that Landa was riding to try and steal some of the bonus seconds on offer to prevent them from going to Froome’s rivals. The angry scenes at the Team Sky bus following the stage seemed to suggest that this wasn’t the case – Directeur Sportif Nicolas Portal was so incensed with Landa’s attack that he couldn’t wait to question the Spaniard in the privacy of the team bus, deciding instead to have words and gesticulate at his rider in full view of the world’s press.

Team Sky’s winning ways didn’t stop at the yellow jersey, as they won the team prize and Michal Kwiatkowsi won Rouleur magazine’s Supreme Banana award. Throughout the race, Rouleur awarded a Top Banana prize to the ‘unsung hero of each stage’. Kwiato won the banana for his instantaneous morphing into a mechanic on the road to Le Puy en Velay on Stage 15. Froome broke a spoke on his rear wheel at a critical moment on the stage; both Froomey himself and Dave Brailsford fully recognise that this could easily have been the end of Team Sky’s grip on the yellow jersey. With an enviable sense of chill, the former World Champion Kwiatkowsi pulled up alongside his team leader, and calmly exchanged Froome’s broken back wheel for his own. It happened so quickly that it was only after the stage had finished that Kwiato’s heroics were appreciated in full. His wheel change was so quick, and Kwiatkowsi so calm, that the incident was almost downplayed.

Now that the Tour is over, we can all appreciate the brilliance of this moment, not to mention the other numerous brilliant Kwiato moments, like actually riding himself to a painful looking standstill on the Izoard, or the tweet he sent attached to a video of him casually throwing his (highly expensive) sunglasses away – “state of mind while you’re over the threshold” (you’ll be pleased to know he sent a follow up tweet the next day thanking Oakley for his replacements “back looking cool”). When presented with the Rouleur Supreme Banana, Kwiatkowsi replied “I was always aiming for the yellow banana on this Tour. Chris has only one yellow jersey, so I’m happy to have the yellow banana. It is yellow, yes?” (I hope he really did say that. They also asked what he was going to do with the Supreme Banana award, which is not actually one supreme specimen of the fruit, but a whole bunch of five. “I’m going to make a smoothie I guess”).

Look up super domestique in the dictionary and there’ll be a photo of Michal Kwiatkowsi, who may or may not be brandishing a banana. Kwiato the mechanic could well have won the Tour for Chris Froome.

4) Chris Froome has a cute baby.

 

Photos courtesy of Reuters, Geraint Thomas Instagram, ASO. Video footage courtesy of France TV and ASO.

Characters of the Peloton, The Bad Boy

Part Two of a mini series by Girl With The Marco Pantani Tattoo

Since the Tour lost two riders in *that* controversial incident on Stage 4, the peloton has been down two of its biggest characters.  I went on a mission to find out who could step up to the mark since the loss of…well, Mark. And Peter.

The Bad Boy, Nacer Bouhanni

Nacer Bouhanni likes to live life on the edge – the edge of being mildly annoyed and full on I’m-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face. It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that he used to be a boxer, and plans to continue with that profession when he’s hung up his bike and helmet.

Bouhanni wasn’t at the Tour last year – he’d been involved in an ‘incident’ the night before the French National Championships. His team, Cofidis issued a carefully worded statement which claimed that Bouhanni had ‘suffered incessant noise at night from individuals present at the adjoining hotel room. Nacer asked them to stop the nuisance and was then assaulted by these alcoholic people’. His I’m-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face side appears to have taken over, and he punched someone in the face. Cofidis politely explained that ‘he was wounded in his hand and taken to the emergency room for four stitches’. L’Equipe reported that he’d broken someone’s tooth; later reports claimed that his adversary had lost two teeth. Cofidis initially explained that, whilst he hadn’t been able to compete the National Championships, his Tour preparation wasn’t in jeopardy. This proved erroneous, as eventually Bouhanni had to undergo surgery on the injured hand.

Bouhanni’s boxing background also follows him onto the bike. He was disqualified from a 2016 Paris-Nice stage win for irregular sprinting – he’d deviated from his line to swerve into Michael Matthews, who he then leaned heavily on, with both riders somehow remaining upright. Bouhanni was also involved in a controversial finishing sprint at the 2016 Dauphiné, where several clashes between the Cofidis and Katusha lead-out trains were reported. Bouhanni headbutted rival Alexandre Kristoff in a chaotic run to the line which saw at least one other headbutt from the Cofidis team, and Katusha employing similar combative tactics against Orica-Scott.

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Bouhanni and Matthews during Stage 2 of Paris-Nice, 2016 (Credit: Tim De Waele)
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Getty Images captured the Paris-Nice incident, 2016
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The Bad Boy of the peloton? (Credit: Sky Sports)

Of course, anyone watching the Tour this year will be aware of Bouhanni’s temperament, with the Frenchman earning a fine and time penalty for throwing a punch at Quickstep-Floors rider Jack Bauer during the run-in to the finish line on Stage 10. The decision to dock the Cofidis rider one minute was almost laughable given that he’s way down in the overall standings and isn’t racing for GC. It was even more controversial in the wake of the Sagan-Cavendish incident, which could have been unintentional. Punching someone during a high speed bike race arguably endangers fellow riders much more than Sagan extending an elbow to balance himself – if that is indeed what happened.

This year, the battles between sprinters continued long after they dismounted from their bikes. FDJ’s Jacopo Guarnieri called the Cofidis rider an ‘idiot’ and a ‘dick’ after Guarnieri claimed that Bouhanni deliberately hit his handlebars during the Stage 6 sprint. ‘He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him as well. He’s a dick, he’s always making people crash. We know he’s like that. He’s probably upset with us because he always loses’.

Whether the Frenchman deserves his reputation as the bad boy of the peloton probably depends on whether or not you’re a fan of aggressive sprints, and Cofidis have repeatedly been at pains to explain that Bouhanni reacts to indiscretions against him and doesn’t lash out indiscriminately. Indeed, Jack Bauer didn’t seem overly concerned about Bouhanni’s aggression towards him during Stage 10. ‘There was a little bit of contact, but there was no incident in my eyes’.

A quick glance at his Twitter feed gives as good indication of Nacer’s personality – a lot of photos of him winning stages, usually a thanks to his team, some boxing related re-tweets, and videos of the man himself throwing some – legitimate – punches with gloves on, plus the odd retort in answer to choice words from rivals. One thing is for sure -when Nacer is racing, it won’t be boring!

 

Characters of the Peloton – The Quiet One

Part One of a mini series by Girl With The Marco Pantani Tattoo

Since the Tour lost two riders in *that* controversial incident on Stage 4, the peloton has been down two of its biggest characters.  I went on a mission to find out who could step up to the mark since the loss of…well, Mark. And Peter.

The Quiet One, Alberto Contador

If you’re not social media savvy you might be forgiven for wondering why I’ve picked ‘Bertie’ (as Contador is affectionately called online) as one of my characters of the peloton. An extraordinary rider, Contador’s post-race interviews tended – until recently – to be in rapid-fire Spanish, with a focus on the day’s tactics and tomorrow’s hopes. You’ll not catch Alberto indulging in a victory jig as he crosses the finish line like Sagan, and, perhaps due to his perceived seriousness, he is never asked the more off-the-wall questions that some of his peers attract.

Yet behind his steely exterior and ridiculously high pain threshold, Alberto Contador is an animal lover with a cheeky sense of humour, which is definitely being showcased now that he’s confident to conduct interviews in English.

Matt Stephens of Global Cycling Network (GCN) has a particularly good rapport with the Spanish rider; check out the YouTube video below to see Bertie lightheartedly mock the former British pro during an interview conducted on a training ride with Alberto’s previous Tinkoff team.

A quick glimpse at Contador’s Instagram feed tells you many things about his interests outside of cycling. I first discovered his love of animals when he posted an amusing photo of his dog wearing the red leaders’ jersey from the Vuelta, amusingly captioned in Spanish ‘I don’t know what was harder, winning the Vuelta or getting the jersey on my dog’.

Contador’s social media is full of photographs of him and his dog, aptly named Tour, as well as various other dogs and friendly animals that he’s come across on his travels. Invariably there’s a sweetly amusing caption to go with each photo. One of my favourite videos on Contador’s Instagram shows him cycling round his apartment with Tour following. It makes me smile that we get to see this side of him.

Don’t forget to visit Bertie’s Instagram page for amusing photographs of food, funny faces and furry friends much like these…

Photos courtesy of Alberto Contador, Instagram, Video thanks to GCN.

Thrills and Spills?

Freewheeling Opinion Column by The Girl With The Marco Pantani Tattoo

9th July 2017

Today I watched in absolute horror as Richie Porte rode off the road, saved himself from cycling off into a ravine, before careering into the path of fellow riders, hitting a brick wall, and then being run over by Dan Martin.  I’m pretty sure it was the worst crash I’ve witnessed live on TV.  I was too young to have seen Fabio Casartelli’s terrible crash on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet in the 1995 Tour de France, and unable to watch the live coverage of the Giro in 2011 when Wouter Weylandt came down during Stage 3.

What I do know about Wouter Weylandt’s crash was the absolute stomach-churning horror as the cameras stayed on him, when it was plainly obvious that something beyond terrible had happened. David Millar writes in his second book, The Racer, about the telephone call he received from his wife immediately after he finished Stage 3 of the Giro, on a ride which took him into the race lead. Having been on the road chasing the dream of wearing the pink jersey, Millar was not aware of what had happened when he took the call. “There was a missed call from Nicole. I called back immediately. She was crying when she answered ‘why are they showing it on TV? They can’t do that….there was blood everywhere and he wasn’t moving’. I’d rarely heard Nicole so upset. ‘They wouldn’t stop filming it. Why would they do that? I don’t understand why they’d do that. What about his girlfriend?’” .

Those words flashed through my mind as I watched today’s horror crash. The camera stayed on Richie as he lay on the road, lingering far too long. What if his family are watching? At that point – and even to some extent now, as I write several hours later – nobody had any idea if he was okay. I couldn’t tell if he was conscious, or if he was moving. I couldn’t watch any more. If I felt like that, how must his family feel? The crash was replayed and replayed – real time speed, slow motion….how many times did we need to see it? Each replay made the accident seem more hideous than the last. I had to look away.

Then there were shots of the Tour’s medical officer attending to Richie, a moment that was incredibly intimate and therefore rather disturbing to watch. Richie having a neck brace fitted, Richie being lifted into the back of an ambulance by a team of paramedics. You realise later that someone was standing there, camera in hand, letting it roll to capture images that will be beamed across the globe. Does viewing the scene through a lens make you feel apart from the situation, detached from reality? Does it make the whole thing seem like some crazy film or video game with HD graphics? Well I watched it at a true distance, through a screen, and I didn’t feel at all detached or apart from what was happening. I just felt sick.

Crashes were numerous today, on Stage 9 of the 2017 Tour de France. Are incidents such as that involving Richie Porte really ‘entertainment’? Cav’s crash earlier in the race was also too painful to watch, and is still playing out over and over again in various vine loops and GIFs on social media. At what point do the viewers and fans say ‘enough is enough’? Like David Millar’s wife Nicole pointed out, these racers have family members and friends watching. Is it right that Wouter Weylandt’s Mum, Dad, and friends had to watch, helpless, as their son and best mate lay on the road, clearly in a terrible situation?Where is the line drawn between entertainment and real life in the world of live sport?