It's a testament to just how unforeseen Landa's move was that no other GC contender tried to attack on stage 8's technical finale. Looping around the corners on the constantly undulating coast road to Peschici, the Basque rider's audacity gained him nearly 20 seconds before FDJ, one of the few teams still looking strong after a hard day's racing, re-organised a chase behind and reeled him in. Landa still finished 13th on the stage, on the same time as all the other favourites, and lies 12th overall, 10 seconds behind leader Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors).
As Landa observed afterwards, the top teams were drained of firepower after the hot pursuit of Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates), who for many kilometres was the provisional race leader, by Quick-Step Floors in defence of Jungels' pink jersey. But the Spaniard's move also had the feel of an ambush, given that on Saturday, many armchair pundits had predicted pre-stage that the GC contenders would likely keep their powder dry for Sunday's assault on the Blockhaus. Most of the GC riders were happy to watch and wait for Sunday: but not Landa.
Race leader Jungels said himself that he had not anticipated a move by the Spaniard, who was third in the 2015 Giro d'Italia. "I wasn't expecting Landa's attack, but I think it was aimed more at other teams than at me," Jungels confirmed later to Italian TV station RAI. Jungels felt Landa's move was more of a long-term plan than an attempt to take the race lead.
If there was such a strategy at the back of Landa's mind, he didn't explain it like that afterwards. Rather, Landa said, it was a move born out of instinct. His aim was to spice up the race at a point where he felt the other GC squads looked vulnerable, rather than race according to a plan.
"It wasn't an attack we'd discussed beforehand, I tried to get away to cause a bit of chaos, to see if it was possible," Landa said at the line. "I wanted to grab a few seconds. The finale was very nervous, everybody wanted to be ahead. FDJ were there chasing me down because [GC contender Thibaut] Pinot is a fighter."
Landa recognised that Sky's having two leaders for the Giro d'Italia, with Geraint Thomas able to follow wheels when Landa attacks and vice versa, was a major advantage. "We have to try, if it's not with one rider, then with the other." At the same time, Landa said that after three flat stages, he needed to test his legs to boost his confidence a little prior to Sunday.
"I had had some doubts about my condition after so many flat stages. Two days ago [at Terme Luigiani's uphill finish] there was a tricky finale and we didn't go for it, today was even more complicated and we were much more mentalised to go for an attack. So I went for it to see what would happen."
Rather than earn concrete results, Landa's move reminded him, his team, and his rivals what kind of a rider he is: a restless non-conformist with a taste for rocking the boat. On stage 8 Landa's surprise 'plan' did not pay off beyond providing a few minutes of added excitement for the fans - which after a fairly dull first week, is no bad thing. But further down the line, in a Giro where many GC contenders are playing a conservative, wait-and-see strategy, Landa's ability to think outside the box may reap much bigger rewards.
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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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