Mikel Landa makes no bones about his weakness against the clock, but is doing everything he can to make improvements ahead of his bid to win this year’s Giro d’Italia – a race that features no fewer than three individual time trials.
The Spaniard, who has moved from Astana to Team Sky for the 2016 season, lost four minutes to Alberto Contador in the 59-kilometre time trial at last year’s Giro, which proved crucial by the time he finished the race third overall and three minutes down on his compatriot.
Speaking to Cyclingnews and a group of journalists at Team Sky’s media day in Mallorca, Landa explained that a key factor behind his transfer to the British team was the scope to develop against the clock, and he described the efforts he has been putting in over the winter – with some results noticeable already.
“Last year I wasn’t training at this moment in January, but this year yes, I’m training with the time trial bike,” said the 26-year-old. “I was working hard in December, finding a position on the track, [and] now we’re training once or twice a week, in order to lose as little [time] as possible.
“I’m feeling more comfortable already, I feel fast. I need to do a competition to see the results, but I feel more confortable, so I think at the moment it’s enough.”
Landa joked that he would need a route without time trials when asked whether he would consider targeting the Tour de France in the future. Either that or commit to putting in the graft in the hope of long-term improvement. That process is underway, and the Basque rider already seems to have bought into Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford’s famed concept of ‘marginal gains’.
“Here everyone is looking for marginal gains,” says Landa, conjuring up images of coaches, mechanics and brand managers going around expectantly uprooting cushions on the sofas in the hotel lobby. “[It’s] the little details, the small things we can do better.”
Landa will need each and every gain he can lay his hands on given the amount of time he’ll have to spend tucked over his tri-bars in May, with this year’s edition of the Giro featuring 61 kilometres of individual time trialling. The first test is a race-opening affair of just 10km, and the third is a cronoscalata of similar length, but it’s stage 9’s rolling 40km route through the vineyards of Chianti that will be the source of most trepidation.
“It’s true, there’s a lot of time trialling, but there are also a lot of mountains,” counters Landa. “I’ll have to lose as little as possible, then in the mountains I’ll try and make a difference.”
Aside from the hurdle represented by the time trialling, Landa will also face the challenge of leading a team at a big race for the first real time. Having played second fiddle to Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru at Astana, he came to Sky to be able to have his own chances and to develop as a leader.
“I’m new to that aspect, I’m still getting to know everyone,” Landa acknowledged. The most important thing is that you’re a group, having some friends.”
Brailsford, having swapped seats with his new recruit in front of the array of dictaphones, raised the same concern when talking about the Giro as one of his team’s major targets for the season.
“Four months into a new team, with a new rider to lead, is always going to be a bit of a challenge in terms of embedding into a new team and different systems, people, and structures and all the rest of it,” he said. “So there’s a bit of an added challenge.”
That said, fellow new signing Beñat Intxausti, who will shadow Landa for much of the early portion of the season before playing an important support role at the Giro, believes his teammate has the natural characteristics of an effective leader.
“He has the personality of a leader,” said the Spaniard. “He’s very ambitious, he sets out big objectives – that’s a sign of the essence of a leader.”
Landa on his rivals
Landa was also asked about his main rivals, and while he picked out Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, and Rigoberto Urán as threats for the Giro, he expanded on a few of the big names he’s eager to go up against over the course of the season.
Vincenzo Nibali: He’s a rider I’ve always admired and I’m really looking forward to racing against him. He can attack you at any moment.
Alberto Contador: He has been, and is, one of the best – the best. He’s very strong physically and mentally.
Fabio Aru: He is very strong mentally. I’m looking forward to the juiciness of being rivals having previously been teammates.
Joaquim Rodríguez: I’ve always liked him, and I’m going to enjoy racing against him. He has an explosivity that almost no one else has.