Bahrain-Merida have been led by Vincenzo Nibali since their inception in 2017 but the Italian is leaving for Trek-Segafredo next year. Landa, therefore, who has spent two disappointing years at Movistar, steps in to head up the team’s Grand Tour ambitions.
Landa, who turned pro in 2011, finished third overall at the 2015 Giro d’Italia, winning two stages along the way, but has been unable to improve on that showing in the years since. After finding himself stuck behind Fabio Aru at Astana at that Giro, he encountered similar leadership issues at Team Sky in 2016 and 2017, and again at Movistar in 2018 and 2019.
Still, he has showcased his underlying class with his run of four consecutive Grand Tour top 10 finishes. After placing 4th at the Tour de France in 2017 and 7th in 2018, this year he did both the Giro and Tour, placing 4th and 6th, respectively.
“I feel very proud of Team Bahrain-Merida who have chosen me to lead this project. I feel really excited for coming challenges,” Landa said in a statement from the team.
Cyclingnews reported earlier this year that the deal between Landa and Bahrain-Merida had been struck as early as the end of 2018. However, under UCI regulations, new transfers can only be made official from August.
The team were planning for a future without Nibali, and negotiations with the Italian over a contract extension broke down earlier this year. Nibali earned the team three Grand Tour podiums, placing third at the Giro d’Italia and second at the Vuelta a Espana in 2017, before finishing runner-up at this year’s Giro. His 2018 Tour de France bid was ended by a crash caused by a spectator.
Nibali, however, turns 35 in November and, after refusing to offer him the two-year terms he was looking for, Bahrain-Merida have place their faith in Landa, five years Nibali’s junior.
“It is with immense pleasure that we welcome Mikel to our team, he is a rider who brings excitement to racing with his incredible climbing skills which makes him one of the most competitive riders for the Grand Tours, his consistent results speak for themselves and his exceptional experience is something that we at Team Bahrain Merida know we can count on,” said team manager Brent Copeland.
“With the arrival of McLaren to our team, we believe that Mikel will have even more benefits to take advantage of and this makes everyone at the team very enthusiastic, we are sure the fans are just as excited as we are about his arrival as we all looking forward to cheering Mikel on.”
By Daniel Benson
One of the worst kept secrets in cycling, negotiations surrounding this deal started back in the winter of 2018, with Landa later agreeing to join Bahrain-Merida and lead their Grand Tour challenge from 2020 onwards.
The management at Bahrain-Merida were aware that their current GC leader, Vincenzo Nibali, was likely to be on the move after he rejected a one-year deal last summer. When the Italian asked for a two-year deal instead, it prompted Bahrain-Merida to search the market for a long-term replacement, with Landa eventually targeted as their preferred choice.
Landa, still just 29, comes with Grand Tour experience across the board with three stages in the Giro d’Italia, a stage in the Vuelta a España, and third in the 2015 Giro to his name. He has often been forced to sacrifice his own GC chances for other riders, or, as in the case with Movistar over the last two years, openly compete with is fellow squad members for leadership.
With Nibali leaving, Bahrain-Merida – or Bahrain-McLaren, as they are to be called in 2020 – were desperate for a Grand Tour replacement. They have strengthened in a number of areas but, with uncertainly over the future of Rohan Dennis, the team were severely short of stage racing potential. Landa, who will have worked with Rod Ellingworth during their time at Team Sky, now has the backing of a WorldTour team and few - if any - complications when it comes to leadership.