The Giro d’Italia has seen its share of internecine strife over the years, but if any tensions exist between Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa, they have yet to register any tremors, far less produce the kind of fault-lines that cleaved open between Roche and Visentini in 1987 or Cunego and Simoni in 2004.
Even so, the possibility of a tradimento is a favoured trope in any Giro narrative, and so when Carapaz took his seat in the press room in San Martino di Castrozza on Friday afternoon, he faced an array of questions that circled around a familiar theme: can Carapaz rely on the fealty of his Movistar teammate Landa on Saturday’s arduous stage 20 to Monte Avena?
Landa currently lies 4th overall, 3:03 behind Carapaz and 47 seconds off a podium place. The Basque’s calling card, at Astana, Sky and now at Movistar, has been his desire for freedom from the constraints of team duties, but Carapaz dismissed the idea that Landa would abandon his post by joining rivals like Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) – second overall at 1:47 – on the offensive on Saturday.
“We know they are going to come for us, and that’s one way of testing us,” Carapaz said. “Since the beginning of the race the team has been very good, and they’ve worked for both of us. Mikel told me to my face that he’s at my service tomorrow. I have confidence the team is backing me.”
On stage 19, Landa performed his duties impeccably, serving as the pacemaker in the pink jersey group when Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) attacked on the final climb. He came home alongside his teammate Carapaz, as well as Nibali and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), 6:29 down on stage winner Esteban Chaves.
Carapaz was later asked what he feared the most from the 194km stage from Felte to Monte Avena between the following checklist of potential setbacks: a crash, a mechanical problem, a long-range attack from his rivals or an act of betrayal from Landa. Unfazed in a press conference as he is on the road, Carapaz responded without missing a beat.
“The biggest fear would be a mishap,” he said. “The other things, I am not even thinking about. I’m not letting it enter my head.”
Many observers, including Nibali and Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli, have pointedly cited Landa as the strongest rider in the mountains on this Giro, though both men know, too, that the Basque has always – albeit reluctantly – acceded to team orders in such situations. Carapaz played a straight bat when asked if he agreed with their assessment of Landa as the race’s preeminent climber.
“It’s true that Mikel is going very well these days and he’s showing it. It helps the team and gives us more confidence,” Carapaz said, and then smiled: “So, maybe, yes.”
Rather than the – potential – enemy within, Carapaz preferred to focus on the threat posed by the very real enemies directly behind him in the general classification, though he politely refused to compare his strength and weaknesses with Nibali’s.
“He’s already won four Grand Tours. He’s very experienced, with a lot of years of professional, so I cannot compare myself with him,” Carapaz said. “I’m still young, but I’ve learned a lot in the four years as a pro, and I am demonstrating it to everyone in the peloton.”
Carapaz has a buffer of just under two minutes on Nibali and 2:16 over Roglic, advantages that ought to suffice to secure overall victory were he to hold them as far as the start ramp of Sunday’s final 17km time trial in Verona.
“Tomorrow will be very complicated. It’s lot of kilometres, and a lot of vertical climbing, so we don’t know if there will be changes in the GC but there will be attacks,” Carapaz said. “With the advantage we have now, we can play with it against our rivals, but we will only think about the time trial when we get to Verona."
However it unfolds, Landa will play a pivotal part in Carapaz's story on the Manghen, Passo Rolle, Croce d'Aune and Monte Avena on Satuday.
“My team is my strong point," Carapaz said. "Mikel has an important role. He has more experience than me and manages the team well. More than a teammate by my side, he’s a leader from whom I can learn a lot.”