Last year at Astana, Mikel Landa’s third place overall in the Giro d’Italia and two mountain stage wins represented a massive breakthrough for the Basque professional. This year, Landa, 26, will head Team Sky’s bid to win the Giro d’Italia in his first ever Grand Tour as team leader. He talked to Cyclingnews about the biggest challenge of his career to date.
Cyclingnews: With the Giro d’Italia just around the corner, how are you feeling?
Mikel Landa: In very good shape and very motivated. After winning the Giro del Trentino, my morale is very high and I’m ready to go for it.
CN: Compared with 2015, when you showed strongly in Trentino and took second overall, but didn’t win a stage, have you therefore moved up a level?
ML: I think I’m pretty much on the same level, to be honest. But I’m more experienced as a racer and that’s why I could win Trentino.
CN: You said during Trentino that you’d expected more of a fight with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) during that race...
ML: Yes, I said that. I don’t know if he’s still not at 100 percent or if he was deliberately concealing his real condition. But I thought he was going to put up more of a fight. Either way, he’s a favourite for the Giro d’Italia.
CN: And what about [Alejandro] Valverde (Movistar)? Have you raced much against him in a GC battle?
ML: Not directly, partly because I’ve rarely raced as a team leader up to now and so I’ve not often had that responsibility. But I’ve been in races with him and we all know what kind of rider he is.
CN: The first week of the Giro has got a start in Holland with flat stages then a long transfer down to southern Italy, followed by some tough, tricky stages in the Apennines and finishing off with a time trial. Is it fair to say it’s hardly a straightforward opening first week for you?
ML: It’s better when the Giro starts off directly in Italy and we don’t have to deal with that kind of terrain that’s so different to Italy. But at the same time, there’s all sorts of different interests at stake here and you have to respect that.
CN: One of the big question marks this year will be how your time trialling has progressed. [Landa lost four minutes to Alberto Contador in the 2015 time trial at Valdobbiadene last year - ed.]
ML: We’ve been working on it a lot, the aerodynamics and so on and I’ve been riding on the TT bike a lot over the winter. I hope there will be an improvement in the Giro d’Italia. The team has helped me a lot to adapt to my new environment and has been very supportive.
CN: You’ve never ridden the Tour de France but you’ve raced the Vuelta four times. How does racing the Giro compare to the Vuelta?
ML: The Giro is much less straightforward. The route always has some unexpected surprises – whether it’s an unclassified climb near the end of a stage or a descent that’s particularly complicated. You’ve got to keep your eyes on the ball all the time.
CN: People talk a lot about you as a top contender, and about Nibali and Valverde, but are there other top favourites?
ML: Yes. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). With all these time trials, he’s going to be a real threat. Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale) who’s been second in the Giro d’Italia twice. Rafa Majka (Tinkoff), who’s very experienced in Grand Tour racing… They’re all as much favourites as me.
CN: Have you been to recon any stages, and is there any one that you particularly thinks suits you?
ML: I’ve checked out the two time trial stages in Italy and the Corvara stage as well. Any that have a summit finish are good for me.
CN: Overall, is this year’s Giro route better or worse for you than last year?
ML: I think it’s worse. There’s no really hard mountain stages with a summit finish, which is what I like the most. There’s a 10 kilometre opening, flat time trial which doesn’t sound so long, but it’s still 10 kilometres. Then the 40 kilometre mid-race time trial that’s basically flat and which will be a factor against me. But it is what it is and there are some very hard mountain stages, too.
CN: With sprinter Elia Viviani named in Sky’s provisional Giro d’Italia line-up, will the team have other objectives as well as the overall with you?
ML: If he’s coming, he’s there to win stages [like last year’s bunch sprint into Genova - Ed.]. They are always important for the team and they’re good morale boosters for everybody.
CN: After the Giro, have you talked with the team about maybe riding the Tour or is it 100 percent ruled out?
ML: We haven’t discussed beyond the end of the Giro. First of all we want to get through the Giro, see what kind of condition I’m in and then we’ll take a decision after that.