Analysing Bahrain McLaren's Tour de France squad

Landa Bahrain McLaren Tour de France analysis
Bahrain McLaren's Tour de France hopes are pinned on Mikel Landa (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

A year on from Vincenzo Nibali and Dylan Teuns stage wins – and Rohan Dennis' DNF – Bahrain McLaren (opens in new tab) bring a totally new look to the Tour de France (opens in new tab).

Mikel Landa (opens in new tab) is the new team leader as just three men remain from the team that raced in France last July. And for the first time in his career, the 30-year-old has a Grand Tour team built entirely around him.

Arguably the strongest team outside the Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos powerhouses, Bahrain McLaren have pulled out all the stops for Landa, with Wout Poels, Pello Bilbao and Damiano Caruso among the men hoping to put him back on a Grand Tour podium.

Contingency plans would include the likes of Poels, Bilbao and Sonny Colbrelli trying for stage victories, but, rest assured, this is Landa's team. Read on for analysis of the eight-man squad to understand exactly what they're capable of at the Tour.

Mikel Landa (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 30

·      Tours raced: 4

·      Best result: 4th, 2017

You might as well shake a magic eight ball when it comes to figuring out where Landa will finish in this year's Tour. It really is impossible to predict. In reality, the 30-year-old will probably arrive in Paris occupying a place between fourth and 10th.

His problem, as the ever-excellent Philippa York wrote last year, is that his Grand Tour playbook is based upon throwing himself onto the tracks before rolling away just before the trains hit.

It looks impressive, it creates drama but you're left wondering what would happen if he just stitched three consistent weeks together. He puts himself in a position of danger by losing time, and claws himself back into some form of contention.

You can let that slide when you're racing for a dysfunctional Movistar but when you're leading the line for a team that has ambitions of building towards a Tour win that won't fly.

No one is doubting Landa's quality – he has finished no lower than seventh in his last four Grand Tours – but there's only so much ground you can make up when you put yourself on the backfoot – especially when you're aiming for the podium.

The good news is that two of the riders that finished above him in last year's Tour - Geraint Thomas and Steven Kruijswijk – are out. Meanwhile, Emanuel Buchmann is banged up, and Julian Alaphilippe is hardly flying, so there are plenty of reasons as to why Landa could crack the podium.

He arguably has one of the top three or four teams around him (opens in new tab) as he looks to embark on the most important Grand Tour of his career, and this year it looks like the responsibility of leading a team is bringing out the best in him.

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2020 - 71st Edition - 2nd stage Torrent - Cullera 181 km - 06/02/2020 - Wout Poels (NED - Bahrain - McLaren) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2020

Wout Poels will be second-in-command to Landa (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Wout Poels (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 32

·      Tours raced: 7

·      Best result: 26th, 2019

Poels' move from Ineos to Bahrain McLaren (opens in new tab) hasn't exactly gone brilliantly so far, but it's been such a disjointed season, it's hard to be too critical of the Dutchman. And to be honest, if you had your wages cut to 30 per cent for a chunk of the year you'd probably show a dip in performance too.

Nevertheless, Poels heads to the Tour as a crucially experienced teammate. He was there for everyone one of Sky/Ineos' Tour wins – bar 2017 – and knows how to lead a mountain train against stiff opposition.

The likely scenario for the Tour will involve Poels sitting up and losing time when he's not required to help Landa before ensuring that he brings his A-game for the select mountain stages that really matter.

It will also be fascinating to see him go up against riders like Pavel Sivakov and Sepp Kuss, who represent the new generation of mountain men.

Pello Bilbao (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 30

·      Tours raced: 1

·      Best result: 54th, 2019

Bilbao could have conceivably dropped down into a smaller team and mounted a GC challenge in Grand Tours after his impressive top 10 in the 2018 Giro d'Italia and his two stage wins the following year, but Bahrain McLaren successfully encouraged him to sign up and bolster their Tour support squad.

His recent win (opens in new tab) in the Spanish national time trial championships provides proof of form but Bilbao's main duties during the Tour will come in the mountains, where he will be expected to support Mikel Landa's GC challenge. 

For Bilbao, this is just his second Tour outing, and his second place in a mountain stage last year suggests that he could be a viable plan B if Landa flounders and the team needs to chase stage wins.

No doubt the team's management will have considered that after leaving Dylan Teuns – their first-ever Tour stage winner atop La Planche des Belles Filles – at home.

MIJAS SPAIN FEBRUARY 23 Pello Bilbao of Spain Team Bahrain McLaren during the 66th Vuelta a Andaluca Ruta del Sol 2020 Stage 5 a 13km Individual Time Trial from Mijas to Mijas 672m VCANDALUCIA UCIProSeries ITT on February 23 2020 in Mijas Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images

Newly crowned Spanish time trial champion Pello Bilbao will be a key rider (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Damiano Caruso (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 32

·      Tours raced: 5

·      Best result: 11th, 2017

The Italian probably doesn't win as much as he could or should, but he's a versatile climber with a perfectly-tuned engine for three-week racing.

He's started and finished 12 Grand Tours in his career with three top 11 GC rides and a host of improvised cameos as a super domestique (opens in new tab). With Bilbao, Landa, Poels, and Valls also in the mix, this a genuine squad for the teams' classification.

At 32, Caruso brings steel and fortitude, while even on a bad day he'll ride out of skin to help his team. If you doubt that, look at how he gamely rode to 11th overall in the 2017 Tour de France after his BMC team leader Richie Porte crashed out.

He's just solid, an old-fashioned diesel, and over three weeks of racing, and with so many tough stages, those qualities will be key. He might suffer on some of the explosive stages earlier in the race but those fireworks should subside as we head into the key mountain stages.

Sonny Colbrelli (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 30

·      Tours raced: 3

·      Best result: 85th, 2019

The Italian sprinter (opens in new tab) has won in WorldTour races – Paris-Nice, the Tour de Suisse – but as famous last words go he's not a Tour de France sprinter.

He's not fast enough to consistently beat the pure sprinters on the flat, while he's also not agile enough to challenge rides like Peter Sagan or Wout van Aert when the fastest men are dropped.

Colbrelli doesn't require a huge leadout, and he's not sluggish by any means, but for the Italian to win a Tour sprint everything would have to run like clockwork. We've seen sprinters of this caliber profit in the past – Robbie Hunter springs to mind – but Colbrelli also offers the team with important options.

With him, in the side, they can remain focussed around days that don't necessarily influence the GC, and for a team desperate for exposure, that's vital. It's why a team like Mitchelton-Scott have included Luka Mezgec in their Tour line-up.

Marco Haller (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 29

·      Tours raced: 4

·      Best result: 126th, 2015

I'll personally go out on a limb and tell you that Haller was the team's most important recruit (opens in new tab) in the off-season.

That's not just because he supports the greatest football team on the planet in Arsenal – although that's an obvious plus – but it's mainly because he fills a void within the team that few could replicate.

The Austrian is a vital link between the sprint train and the climbers, and should be handed the role of road captain once the team arrives in Nice.

He probably won't win you a stage, and he won't be there in the high mountains, but the 29-year-old covers as the on-road liaison between riders and team car occupants, while still retaining the wattage to sit on the front day-in-day-out. It wouldn't be a far cry to compare him to his fellow countryman, Bernhard Eisel.

VISE BELGIUM AUGUST 18 Marco Haller of Austria and Team Bahrain Mclaren during the 41st Tour de Wallonie 2020 Stage 3 a 192km stage from Montzen to Vise TourdeWallonie TRW2020 on August 18 2020 in Vise Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Team road captain Marco Haller (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Matej Mohoric (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 25

·      Tours raced: 1

·      Best result: 119th, 2019

No idea how this guy is still only 25, but the former U23 world champion returns for his second outing at the Tour and will be a valuable asset on the flat and when it comes to protecting Landa in crosswinds.

On a personal level, Mohorič has not seemed to kick on since a breakthrough year in 2018 and then a strong start to 2019 (opens in new tab), but he remains a vital part of the team.

He's already won stages in cycling's two other Grand Tours, and if the team's GC ambitions go side-ways then we should expect the Slovenian to start jumping into every break that moves.

He's a class act, on and off the bike, and frankly would make nearly any WorldTour squad for the Tour.

Rafael Valls (opens in new tab)

·      Age: 33

·      Tours raced: 4

·      Best result: 41st, 2012

The Spaniard came across with Landa from Movistar and slots into the team as one of their climbing cards.

In all likelihood, the team management probably looked at the mountainous route, saw that Mohoric, Haller, and Colbrelli could offer up ample support for the flats and decided that another climber would fit the bill. Step forward Valls (opens in new tab).

His record in Grand Tours isn’t great – he’s been a DNF is almost half of them – and his last three-week outing came in 2018 but the team has clearly been impressed enough to leave Dylan Teuns at home and bring Valls instead.

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.