Mikel Landa's motto to "never give up" could hardly have been more apt than on stage 9 of the Giro d'Italia. The Bahrain Victorious leader crashed twice but was able to regain momentum and even battle it out with two of the other strongest climbers on the stage, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Romain Bardet (Team DSM). Yet it all could have ended very differently.
Some 50 kilometres from the stage 9 finish of the Giro d'Italia at the foot of the Passo Lanciano, a terse message on race radio announcing that Landa was off the back of the peloton for unspecified reasons led the Basque's fans to fear the worst for a rider who has suffered more than his fair share of bad luck over the years.
But despite crashing, all it took was a quick change of one shoe, according to TV reports, and Landa was able to make his way up to the front of the pack - only to fall again on the descent that followed. Fortunately neither crash was a major one and even as Ineos Grenadiers shredded the field on the Blockhaus, the 2015 Giro podium finisher was always still in the top five of the pack.
Then, when Carapaz blasted away with less than five kilometres to go, Landa was able to follow the Ecuadorian with relative ease and managed to lay down one long, surging acceleration that briefly gapped counter-attacker João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and eventual stage winner Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Finally finishing fourth at the line, Landa is now seventh overall 29 seconds behind Spanish overall leader Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo). All this is a far cry both from the previous Giro ascent of the Blockhaus in 2017 where he finished nearly half an hour down after a badly parked motorbike caused a massive pile-up in the peloton and from last year's horrendous first-week crash that saw him out of the Giro altogether.
"Today we've started to see who can be the strongest in this year's Giro and I'm delighted to be up there," Landa told reporters. "I fell on the Lanciano and again on the descent, and after that, I didn't like how I was pedalling, it always felt odd. So all in all, I'm very satisfied with how it worked out. I didn't lose time and I was up there."
Landa explained that the first crash had come from a moment of inattention when he had got his front wheel caught between a road drain and some freshly laid tarmac, and the second on the downhill had happened when his front wheel skidded on a hairpin. However, the double fall revived some unwelcome memories of the past.
"For one moment I thought that all my bad luck had come back to haunt me again," Landa recognised, "so I'm very pleased to be up there ahead."
Landa insisted that despite his impressive ride his main goal for the Giro d'Italia is a podium finish, but warned that there was still a long way to go.
"But the GC is beginning to sort itself out now, I'm up there and we'll see what we can do. So I can be pleased with that."
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