There's a rather uncouth expression – all fart and no poop – which perfectly summarises Bahrain-McLaren's day in Stage 17 of the Tour de France.
In Rod Ellingworth's neck of the Lancastrian woods, they'd probably say something a bit more elegant, such as – all fur coat and no knickers. Well, once his papaya cloak of invincibility was shed, Mikel Landa was really caught with his trousers down on the Col de la Loze.
Ellingworth, the Bahrain team manager, had clearly outlined a plan on the bus for his riders ahead of the Queen Stage. And in many respects, it was a breath of fresh air to see a team of one of the podium favourites take the race to Jumbo-Visma and ride on their own terms – instead of being dictated to by the yellow-and-black army of Primoz Roglic.
Highlights of stunning Stage 17 as Lopez wins and Roglic strengthens GC lead
As such, Bahrain-McLaren set out their store early. Instead of waiting until the final climb, the men in what Brian Smith describes as the "papaya jerseys" sent their heavies onto the front of the pack on the Col de la Madeleine.
Sprinter Sonny Colbrelli and powerhouse Marco Haller set a fast tempo to whittle down the pack and all but ensure that the strong five-man break ahead – featuring the top two riders from the previous stage, Lennard Kamna and Richard Carapaz – wouldn't stay out to compete for the spoils. Spoils they clearly wanted to go Landa's way.
They didn't sit up over the top. Reeling in Kamna and then Dan Martin, they had the leading trio of Carapaz, Julian Alaphilippe and Gorka Izagirre on a tight leash as the race sampled the 21.5km ascent of the Col de la Loze for the first time.
But here's the thing: for all their tempo-setting of diminishing returns, Bahrain were merely giving Jumbo-Visma a free ride. That was not perhaps entirely accurate: the pace would have hurt, but not so much to isolate Roglic or overly disrupt the other favourites.
In short, for all Bahrain's efforts, they failed to get rid of anyone but the deadwood which would have been chopped down by Jumbo riding on the front anyway.
These tactics earned some scathing rebukes on Twitter, where the sight of Landa being sandbagged by Wout van Aert was light-heartedly ridiculed by yours truly…
With Matej Mohoric, Wout Poels, Pello Bilbao and Damiano Caruso piling on the hurt on the Col de la Loze, Carapaz was soon the only escapee left out in front as the riders passed through the ski resort of Meribel.
But as the camera panned to Mikel Landa, the Spaniard had the look of someone for whom the peseta had just dropped: the sudden realisation that he was going to have to finish it off hit Landa like a ton of bricks.
It was as if Ellingworth's voice had just fizzed through on the race radio and Landa's brain had finally managed to understand his manager's instructions: "Mikel – are you ready to launch your attack? Like we planned…"
After Robert Gesink and George Bennett, van Aert did finally pop, leaving Roglic with just Sepp Kuss and Tom Dumoulin. So, with Bilbao and Caruso there for Landa, it was an even playing field…
Until UAE Team Emirates moved to the front, that is, with their two-man army of Tadej Pogacar and David de la Cruz, the latter paving the way for the former with a pull that dropped the likes of Rigoberto Uran, Alejandro Valverde, Dumoulin and… Landa.
From that point, with around 4km remaining, it was just brutal – and not only for Landa and Bahrain. Stretching out into the distance and rising to 2,304 metres, the narrow cycle path of the Col de la Loze was not so much a stairway to heaven as an escalator to hell.
Miguel Angel Lopez on the final ramp of the Col de la Loze.
Image credit: Getty Images
And although there was no major shake up in the battle for yellow – indeed, Roglic's second place behind stage winner Miguel Angel Lopez extended his lead over third-place Pogacar, the new polka dot jersey, to 57 seconds – the drama over the double-digit ramps of the final few kilometres ensured that this will not be the last time we see the Col de la Loze on the Tour parcours.
As for Landa, he came home 1'20" down on Lopez and alongside Adam Yates for seventh place. Starting the day seventh overall in the standings, 2'16" down, Landa is still seventh, but 3'37" adrift. Under his fur coat there were indeed no knickers – not even fetching papaya ones.
Caruso, who took 13th place to cement his push for a top 10 in Paris, tried to put a positive spin on things after the stage which his team dominated until the final few kilometres. "I saw a really strong team," the Italian told ITV after what he described as a "terrible, terrible climb".
We showed we're a team. We went deep but we don't have any regrets. If you don't try, you never know. We gave our all and so we've no regrets. [Mikel] Landa didn't collapse, he gave his all and so that's OK.
Bilbao echoed his teammate's statement and was stoic about the final outcome while looking ahead to Thursday's final stage in the Alps.
"We used all the power of the team, we all did the maximum effort, and the result was not what we expected but we cannot ask for more from the team. We tried until the end, and tomorrow we will also try to make a surprise. It’s going to be difficult but we have one more opportunity," the Spaniard said.
And when the dust settles, perhaps Bahrain-McLaren, instead of being ridiculed for seeing their effort's seemingly backfire, will garner praise for trying something different; perhaps Landa himself, rather than being the butt of numerous internet memes, will be applauded for putting his neck on the line in the most important stage of the biggest bike race in the world – like a true leader should do.
The extent of the damage done by Bahrain-McLaren may not be fully understood until we see how the third leg of the Alpine triptych is played out. Stage 18 is prime ambush territory with five categorised climbs and a fast finish into La Roche-sur-Foron.
There will be a lot of tired legs. Of course, Landa's may be among those tired legs... But as they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained – regardless of whether you're wearing the right underwear.