It was only a few days ago that Mikel Landa, distanced by his rivals twice in the space of three days, admitted to “not feeling great” at the Giro d’Italia. Pessimism, however, has made way for optimism, in the most unlikely way.
The Spaniard, a notoriously weak time triallist who lost three minutes to the favourites against the clock last year, was widely expected to take a considerable hit on the 40.5km stage 9 time trial along the rolling, twisty roads of Chianti. However, he performed better than anyone could have expected, finishing within seven seconds of Vincenzo Nibali and ahead of pretty much every other true GC contender.
Now, instead of leaving himself with ground to make up in the mountains, he finds himself eighth overall and less than half a minute back on Nibali - probably the reference point of this Giro.
"I thought that after the time trial there might be some bigger time differences between the favourites. But if you look at the GC, we're all really close together,” Landa said in an interview on the Team Sky website.
“Right now I'm in a better position than I expected and I have to be happy, because now the best part of the Giro begins for me. "I'm really optimistic for the next group of stages. It's going to be a beautiful race. The top 10 is really strong and it's going to be a great fight.”
Sky, the spiritual home of marginal gains, identified Landa’s time trialling as a key area to work on and duly subjected the 26-year-old to intensive off-season work in the wind tunnel and on the track. His start to the season was even delayed to allow him extra time to work on his position.
Landa, who was riding the new version of the Pinarello Bolide time trial bike, says that his performance was the just reward for the hard miles he put in over the winter.
"For sure it's one of my best rides," he said. "I've never done a time trial like that before. I was really motivated, along with the new bike I had and support from the whole team. We did a lot of work over the winter and now we were able to get this result.
"I remember we had one really hard day working on my TT position in Mallorca. We were at the track for around six or seven hours on my birthday. Normally that's a day where you want to take some time for yourself, but instead there was a lot of hard work. But it's nice that many months later there was a present from this!"
Landa admitted that it had been a tough opening week of the Giro, but his confidence has been bolstered considerably ahead of the mountains - the setting for his coming of age in last year’s race.
"It's been a difficult start to the Giro. In these early stages there's always a lot of stress. No one wants to lose any time, so it's been a big battle just as we expected. We also had two time trials during the first nine stages, and it's no secret these are not the best stages for me,” said the Spaniard.
"With the climbs coming up in the second week it's time now to try to make a difference. This is the best terrain for me. If the feelings are good like I had in the time trial, then we will hope to take some time.”
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