Whilst making it clear that certain subjects were not up for discussion, such as the recent turmoil in British Cycling - “I’m happy to take questions about the race” was how Brailsford put it - the Sky Team Principle was much more forthcoming on Landa -the team's 2016 marquee signing and the Basque's performance both in the opening time trial and the Giro d’Italia in general.
“He’s got an ‘X’ factor, that makes you think: ‘this is a big star in the making,’” Brailsford told Cyclingnews at the start of stage two of the Giro d’Italia in Arnhem.
“He did actually better than we expected which was good,” Brailsford said, after Landa finished 67th, 40 seconds down. “It’s no secret, though, that we’re here to play the long game and we were happy in our camp with that start, and now we’re looking forward to getting into the race.”
After the opening time trial, phase two of the Giro d’Italia for Landa is now to stay out of trouble and remain with all his options on the table after a dangerous first week.
“That’s particularly the case on days like this one, where the idea is to lose no time, it’s not just a question of sitting back. You’ve got to be vigilant.”
A super nice guy
After nearly five months of working with Landa, Brailsford describes him as “a really, really interesting character to work with. He’s got an X factor, in the way he works, his personality, you know there’s something about him where you think this is a future big star in the making here.”
“He’s a super-nice guy, very, very focused and very intelligent in his approach to his sport. He’s aware of the details, he doesn’t take things blindly, he really wants to understand and question and look and all the rest of it, in that sense he’s really good.”
“He’s calm, relaxed, doesn’t get stressed. He’s got a nice mentality, if you like, about how he’s approaching the whole thing, which will serve him well. It’s exciting to work with him and it’s enjoyable.”
Brailsford said he was not worried about the consequences of Landa’s health issues that pushed back his 2016 season debut.
“Riders get ill and in professional sport, when somebody gets ill, there’s not a lot you can do, you’ve just got to be patient. It’s the same as with Benat Intxausti, you’ve just got to be patient. When you’re younger you get kind of impatient, you think: ‘what can we do, we should be doing more’, and you can just push, push, push but over time you realise that when you’re sick, you’re sick, you have to deal with it, stay positive, and see what that brings.”
After Landa’s victory in the Giro di Trentino, moral is high in the British team. With a podium finish already in last year’s Giro d’Italia, Landa is now aiming, Brailsford confirms, for the outright victory.
“That’s the plan, obviously it’s to do the best he possibly can, I think in the light of that, if he can ride to the best of his ability, why couldn’t he win?”
Brailsford said he had been aiming to sign Landa when Euskaltel-Euskadi, his previous squad, folded at the end of 2013.
“I’ve been following him since he was very young and I missed out when he went to Astana and I was kicking myself about that. But I was not going to miss out a second time round.”
After Bradley Wiggins missed out in the 2013 Giro d’Italia and Richie Porte’s injuries and illnesses ruined the Australian’s chances in 2015, Landa represents a very different kind of overall challenger for Team Sky. The next three weeks will reveal whether this change of direction pays off.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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