Basque cycling star Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) paid a moving tribute to former teammate Vincenzo Nibali, the multiple Grand Tour winner who announced his retirement after the stage finish in his hometown of Messina on Wednesday.
Rivals on countless occasions over the years, Landa and Nibali are taking part in the Italian Grand Tour, where the Bahrain Victorious racer is lying 12th overall.
Landa raced for two seasons (2014-2015) with Nibali at Astana, having joined after the collapse of Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2013. In the first year, Nibali won the Tour de France and in 2015, Landa had his breakthrough at the Giro d'Italia, finishing third behind Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru.
"It will be a real pity he won't be in the peloton anymore," Landa told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 6. "Maybe without ever being the best climber or the best time triallist, Vincenzo has been a rider who always gave it everything he had, who raced really courageously and that passion for racing is what has helped him create his palmares. And it's an amazing palmares."
As a young racer in his days at Euskaltel and Astana, Landa said, "Vincenzo was my idol. We didn't cross paths in virtually any race, because I was young and getting into my stride and he was already a very well established figure. But we've always had a good relationship and we've shared a lot over the years in the peloton.
"What I most admire about him is his versatility. He's got major Tours in his palmares, but he's also been able to pull off amazing triumphs in races like Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia as well. He even had a go at a race like the Tour of Flanders [in 2018-Ed]. When he finally goes, it's going to feel like the end of an era."
As for his own Giro d'Italia so far, Landa said he was very pleased with how his racing was going but said he had unfinished business with the Blockhaus ascent, the Giro's next big summit finish on Sunday.
In 2017, Landa's GC bid went up in smoke on the foot of the Apennines ascent when he and other riders including his then-teammate Geraint Thomas crashed heavily because of a badly parked motorbike.
"Etna was a special day, let's say, after the rest day we were all a bit unsure of how we'd come through. The outcome was more a war of attrition because of the difficulty of the climb itself rather than anything else.
"Tomorrow's stage [7 to Potenza] is a very hard one with a lot of different climbs, and we'll have to see how we get on. But I'm very keen to get to the Blockhaus, I have a score to settle with that climb and I want to settle it on Sunday."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.
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