Mikel Landa believes the Movistar could have a team that is as good as, if not stronger, than Team Sky at next month's Tour de France. Landa was Chris Froome's most important rider at last year's race but moved to Movistar over the winter and forms part of a three-pronged GC attack with Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde.
"It could be that Movistar will be the strongest at the Tour this year. I am happy with the team, it is really strong and we will resolve things out on the road. At least we will be at the level of Sky in the past years," Landa told Marca.
Landa and his two co-leaders were paraded in front of the press at Movistar event in Madrid earlier this week. Team manager Eusebio Unzue was quizzed as to how he would balance three riders of equal billing, a question that has hung in the air since it was announced that Landa, Quintana and Valverde would ride the Tour together. The three have rarely raced together so far, but Landa says that the relationship between them is good and reiterated his belief that the road would be the deciding factor in who would be the ultimate leader.
"The co-existence between us has been good. We have spoken a lot about the respect. Nairo and I were together at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Tour de Suisse," Landa said. "We understood each other well. With Alejandro, it is easier because he is more relaxed. He enjoys his bike a lot and transmits it. We will have a team to beat."
Given that he spent two years on the team and his role in supporting Froome to two Tour de France titles, there are few riders best placed in the peloton to know how to break the run of Team Sky – other than, perhaps, Riche Porte (BMC Racing). Landa says that Froome, who is expected to race despite his ongoing salbutamol case, is the clear favourite but says that breaking up the Team Sky train is the way to beat them.
"Right now [Froome] is the strongest contender, the favourite for his experience of winning four Tours, he went and won the Giro and I think that he has finished it in good form. Hopefully, he will be tired," Landa said.
"The key against Sky is to break the 'bloque'. It is a team that relies a lot on the group and the riders surround the leader, they cover a lot. You have to try and break this block and perhaps you can do more damage. But, if this year we have attacked from far out, it is because I think that they have had less control in races, there isn't a team that knows how to control as much. You have to test from far out, be brave, and above all when there isn't much to lose, try. This formula gives results."
Landa believes that this year’s race is a prime chance to take the overall victory, particularly given that Froome already has one Grand Tour in the legs with his Giro d'Italia victory.
"Yes, it is a good opportunity. Froome comes from the Giro and hopefully he will pay for his efforts and we can take advantage of it," he said. "It is a very mountainous course and with many traps that can take out a favourite. Also, there are many difficult stages to control, that can be beneficial to climbers like us."
Landa completed both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France last season but a crash on stage 9 of the Giro meant that his ambitions were revised down from the overall classification to a stage victory. This year, he is focusing solely on the Tour de France and his calendar has reflected that with a break after the end of the Ardennes and a return to racing at the Tour de Suisse last week.
The result at the Tour de Suisse was not what he would have wanted after dropping from seventh overall to 16th after a disappointing time trial. With a different approach to the Tour this year, Landa says that he's probably in worse shape than he was this time 12 months ago but he thinks that it will pay off as the race progresses.
"Last year, I was recovering after the Giro d'Italia. I did four training rides to not lose form and that was all. This year, I am progressing, it is different. At this stage, perhaps I am worse than a year ago, but this time I will go from less to more," he said.
"[I am in] good form with the batteries charged, motivation and desire. Already, it is 20 days until the start of the Tour, and 30 until the stat of the mountains. Everything is going as predicted. In the time trial in Switzerland, there is no need to give it thought, it was a bad day, I didn’t feel great."