Landa eyes Giro d'Italia - Tour de France double for 2019

Movistar's three-leader question was never answered, says Spaniard

To call Mikel Landa’s first year at Movistar a tricky one would be an understatement - or, as the Basque says rather wryly about 2018, "it’s had pretty much everything in it".

A solid start to the season, with a summit finish stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico and second place overall in the Vuelta al País Vasco were followed by two bad crashes in the summer, the first on the cobbles at the Tour de France in July and the second much closer to home in the Clásica San Sebastián at the start of August.

The first fall left him battered and unable to perform at 100 per cent in the Tour and then the second, far more serious, saw him suffer bad back injuries that ruled him out for all of August and, in terms of results, for the rest of the season. Just to add to the turbulence, there were rumours during the Tour that Landa might move on to Astana, rather than complete his contract with Movistar.

But while the Astana rumours proved to be just that - rumours - Landa remained firmly on the back foot for the rest of the season. The Vuelta a España proved impossible, as did the World Championships, and although Landa managed to race again in the autumn in Italy’s one-day races, a relentless racking up of DNFs there - finally totalling six - spoke for itself.

"Things went very well up until the Tour and then in the Tour things went awry and the Clásica crash finished me off," Landa told reporters at the end of a Movistar get-together in Navarre this week.

"The only good thing was that I’ve ended the season racing again, which was the best way to end the year. But next year is really where I’ve got my objectives. I’m doing all right, although I need to disconnect mentally, as well as physically, and forget everything for a while, because I made a big effort to try and race the Vuelta and Worlds. I liked the Vuelta route and the Worlds was a very special one. But trying to get back into racing tired me out."

2019

Whilst Valverde’s victory in the Worlds "saved the day for the team" in 2018, as Landa put it, his own objectives in 2019 are focused almost purely on the Grand Tours, with the Tour de France the top of the list.

"I want to go to the Tour, and I have to go, but I don’t know anything more than that", said Landa, who finished seventh overall this year despite his injuries.

With a route next July that suits him down to the ground - with very little time trialling and lots of summit finishes, the Basque seems more motivated than ever to return to France. A return to his former team Astana in 2019, on the other hand, was never really on the cards, Landa insisted.

"It’s true that [Alexandre] Vinokourov [Astana team manager] said he’d like to see me back on the team, but that was as far as it went."

As for 2020 and what his plans are in the mid-term, he batted the question away, saying simply that there was still a long time to go before that decision has to be made. But, in any case, he is, he reminded reporters on Friday, "very happy on this team".

So the question marks for Landa in 2019 are not so much about July, but whether he backs up a Tour bid with a return to the Giro d’Italia. In Italy, back in 2015 he claimed his only Grand Tour podium finish to date, although he did come agonisingly close to toppling Romain Bardet from third overall in the Tour last year.

A Giro-Tour double is far from being out of the question, then, and Landa says he would be keen to try it for a second time in his career after 2017.

"I basically finished my season in August, so I’m feeling pretty fresh," he reasoned, "I don’t see it is as being completely out of the question. Last year I did both and it suited me pretty well, despite crashing out in the Giro d’Italia."

The other issue that is still unresolved, in Landa’s opinion, is how the much-vaunted Movistar ‘trident’ of leaders in the Tour could really have worked out.

"We’ll have to see what each person’s objectives are, but last year we couldn’t really exploit that because we were performing less well than expected. The question of whether it worked or not was never answered," Landa argued.

So the jury remains out on that one, and so too on what Landa’s plans are outside July. But whilst he’ll wait to see the routes of both the Giro and the Vuelta - the former out next week, the latter not due to appear until January - before making a final decision as to which second Grand Tour he might do, Landa remains upbeat about his chances in 2019, regardless.

When asked by one journalist if the best Mikel Landa is yet to come, he replied immediately: "I hope so. The day when things go well, and I can really show what I’m capable of doing, then we’ll all enjoy it."

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