Le Puy-en-Velay -
Staying calm is what helped Chris Froome and Sky save the yellow jersey
on a dramatic day at the Tour de France on Sunday, his Spanish team-mate Mikel
Froome suffered a mechanical problem 50km from the end of
the 189.5km 15th stage from Laissac-Severac l'Eglise to Le Puy en Velay that
saw him drop 50 seconds behind his main rivals at one point.
But after a mad 20km chase, he latched back onto the group
ahead, with Landa, who had stayed alongside the other favourites, dropping back
at the last moment to help Froome bridge up after Sergio Henao and Mikel Nieve
had provided most of the chase effort.
"I just stayed in the first group, and when he was
closer, I waited a little bit and we came back together," said Landa, who
dropped a place from fifth to sixth overall at the finish after a late attack
by Dan Martin.
"I was in the first group, so I always let them (the
team) know how things were going. We stayed calm and saved the day very
Landa's role in Sky has been under scrutiny these last few
days with rumours all is not well and suggestions the Basque rider might be a
He was seen being berated by Sky sports director Nicolas
Portal following Thursday's 12th stage in the Pyrenees after Froome had cracked
on the short, steep, final climb to the finish.
Rather than stay with his team leader, Landa accelerated
away to try to win the stage.
The very next day he joined Alberto Contador in a breakaway
and gained almost two minutes on his own team leader by the finish, moving up
to fifth overall, just over minute back.
Sky and Froome insisted it had been a good move to give the
team "a great card to play" and a "plan B".
But not everyone is convinced.
Irishman Stephen Roche, the Tour winner in 1987, said he
thought Landa was the biggest threat to Froome winning a fourth title.
"We don't know if the strategy of Sky the other day was
purposely to let Landa up the road to have a plan B, or was it because of some
internal discussions we'll never know about?" he said.
Landa is rumoured to be leaving Sky next year as he is
unhappy at being a domestique for Froome and wants to try to win Grand Tours
But Froome made a point of thanking him for coming back from
the favourites' group to help his leader.
Froome suffered a mechanical problem due to a broken spoke
in his back wheel and found himself distanced as he had to stop and change a
wheel with team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski.
"That was extremely stressful, panic stations really. I
thought that could be the yellow jersey changing shoulders again after this
stage," said Froome.
"I'm just grateful I was able to get back to that front
group because it was a critical moment of the race.
"It's thanks to my team-mates for dropping out of that
front group and helping me to get back, especially Mikel Landa who dropped out
of the front group in the last kilometre there to help me get back."