Mikel Landa pulled on the azzurra-coloured jersey on the podium after finishing second to Vincenzo Nibali in Bormio but the leadership of the mountains competition was little consolation for the Basque rider, who was looking to make up for Team Sky's many misfortunes in this year's Giro d'Italia and land a prestigious stage victory.
Team Sky made the race yet again early in stage 16, placing Landa, Vasil Kiryienka, Philip Deignan and Sebastian Henao in the big group that formed on the Mortirolo after 70km of fast racing. Deignan proved invaluable over the Stelvio and before the Umbrailpass, giving his all to help the breakaway hold as much of its lead into the headwind as possible.
Landa then showed he was the strongest on the Swiss climb, dropping Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and the surprisingly strong Jan Hurt (CCC Sprandi Polkowice). However, after 150 kilometres out front in the Alps, he lost vital seconds in the final kilometres and then Nibali dived down the descent to catch him and beat him in the close sprint.
"Sadly I lost the stage in the final metres but that's cycling. When Nibali caught me I was able to follow him pretty well but then the sprint was a sprint. You can't always win," Landa told Cyclingnews after also being given the Cima Coppi prize for being first over the summit of the 2758m Stelvio.
"The Cima Coppi is always special for a rider, it's also the 100th year of the Giro, and so I was ready to fight for it," he explained.
"I was right on the limit in the final kilometres of the last climb and I could see some riders on the road below. I thought they'd catch me but I fought all the way to the finish because I'd dreamt about holding on and winning the stage."
"Deignan was bravissimo and Kiri and Henao worked for me, too. In the last valley, Deignan said he had nothing left and I could only thank him for what he did for me. If I went so close to victory it was also thanks to them."
Landa leads the mountains competition with a total of 124 points after scoring 104 during the stage. The previous leader, Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), sportingly allowed Luis León Sánchez of Astana to pass the summit of the Mortirolo first in honour of Michele Scarponi.
Landa scored 24 points for third, then was first over the Stelvio, scoring 45 points to add to the 35 he earned on the Umbrailpass.
He leads Sánchez by 16 points in the mountains classification now but is not convinced the jersey should become his goal for the rest of the Giro d'Italia.
"The maglia azzurra is nice but it's difficult to defend it. I'll perhaps try to win another stage and doing that I might get to keep the jersey anyway. That seems like the best strategy. I'll keep trying to win a stage all the way to Milan."
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