Landa: I can be up there with the best at Ruta del Sol

Movistar rider aims to be in top form for País Vasco and Ardennes Classics

Mikel Landa's long-awaited debut with Movistar will finally take place on Wednesday at the start of the five-day Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol. This will be his first race of the season but Landa believes that after a solid winter of training he is strong enough to race among the top contenders.

"This will be a very special race for me," said Landa, who joined Movistar this season after spending two years with Team Sky.

"New colours, new ambitions… and I'd like to start this off in a good way, to make things easier for everyone and bring some joy to the rest of the team."

The race starts in Malaga and ends with a time trial in Barbate, with a summit finish at the Alto de Allanadas on stage 2, a stage that Landa's former Team Sky teammate won in 2015, before winning the overall title. Landa was sixth overall last year.

Froome announced that he will also start his season at the Ruta del Sol, despite having returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) at the 2017 Vuelta a España for twice the permissible dose of the asthma medication salbutamol. He could face a suspension, but the outcome of that case has yet to be announced.

Landa will lead Movistar in the overall classification with support from Andrey Amador, Jorge Arcas Peña, Daniele Bennati, Imanol Erviti, Rubén Fernandez Andujar and Marc Soler Gimenez.

"It will be difficult to go for victory in Andalucía, because there are many contenders who have already built some racing form," Landa said. "Some of them started in Australia, others have been competing in Mallorca and Valencia…

"However, I've done good training, I feel myself in good form, and even if I lack that tiny bit of energy from no racing, I think I can be up there with the best.

"I don't know the whole route, but I did watch the Allanadas climb on TV when the race finished there in 2012. The final time trial seems like the key point in this year's race. We will go day-by-day and see what we can do."

Movistar's Alejandro Valverde has already brought the team early-season success. He competed in three of the four Mallorca Challenge events where he was with third at the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana and fourth at the Trofeo Lloseta-Andratx.

He went on the overall victory at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, where he also won stages 2 and 4. The performance was unexpected since he had comeback from a horrific crash at the Tour de France last year where he shattered his knee cap and broke is talus bone.

Valverde has won the Ruta del Sol five times in 2012-14 and 2016 and 2017, but he will not be racing this year.

Landa didn't compete in the Mallorca Challenge, but he joined his Movistar teammates there for a training camp in the last week of January, which inspired him to start his season in good shape.

"We put on some serious pace in the hills, and seeing them being so prepared for racing, I really got in the mood for some competition - that's why I was so keen to do well in Mallorca.

"I also shared a lot of time there with Alejandro. It's been a spectacular start of the season for him, especially considering his serious injuries last summer. He had good legs in training, but that's one thing and the other is confirming them in the races, seeing where you really are. I got really happy when I saw him winning so early in the season in Valencia."

Landa announced his early-season schedule will also include Tirreno-Adriatico in March, Vuelta al País Vasco in April, when he is expected to race for a top result. He has not raced in the Ardennes Classics since 2012 and said he would like to compete in all three events this year.

"Those are races whose profile and terrain I like, and learning by the side of Alejandro is a great thing," Landa said. "I think I should be in good condition in Tirreno already, but my main goal is reaching my best form in País Vasco and the Ardennes."

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