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Landa dreams of Tour de France leadership at Bahrain McLaren

Team Bahrain McLaren, Mark Cavendish and Mikel Landa
Mikel Landa at the Bahrain McLaren team presentation with Mark Cavendish (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

After three years featuring Vincenzo Nibali as the team's leading - and, realistically, only - Grand Tour contender, Bahrain McLaren have switched things up for 2020, bringing in Mikel Landa from Movistar to lead the way.

The Spaniard has spent the past six seasons either sharing Grand Tour leadership - with Fabio Aru at Astana, and with Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, and Richard Carapaz at Movistar - or working for Chris Froome at the Tour de France at Team Ineos. 

The move to Bahrain marks the first time Landa is the undisputed number one on his own squad.

"It was an attraction," Landa told Cyclingnews at the Bahrain McLaren pre-season training camp in Croatia. "It's very important to feel that support. I can see that they're working a lot and are making a very structured team. I think it helps for us to work better, to have clear ideas. I'm very happy with how the team is organised.

"Sometimes it happened that I feel very strong when I have to work for someone else. But that's that, no? Other times I had the opportunity and I didn't do the best time trial or lost time elsewhere. Sometimes, it's difficult to choose the right moment."

Landa enjoyed arguably his best Grand Tour campaign last season, finishing fourth at the Giro d'Italia and sixth at the Tour de France, despite sharing leadership with two other riders each time.

Back in 2015, he took his only Grand Tour podium to date, finishing third at the Giro while taking two stage wins at Madonna del Campiglio and Aprica, as well as a stage at the Vuelta a España. In 2017, he finished fourth at the Tour behind team leader Froome, having earlier won a stage and the mountains classification at the Giro.

As for 2019, Landa looks back on the season proudly, but said that he always wants to do better. He also lamented time losses at the Grand Tours, which included poor time trials at the Giro and a stage 10 crash at the Tour, which saw him lose two minutes.

"You always want more, you know?" he said. "But I'm happy, I'm happy. Being at two Grand Tours at a high level is not easy, I think.

"Unfortunately, at the Tour I crashed and lost some time, and at the Giro I started very badly in the time trials and lost a lot of time, so I was always coming back to the GC positions. But I think that I had a good level and good experiences, and I think it's all going to be useful for the new season." 

Landa will forgo the Giro for only the second time in seven seasons next year, focussing all his energies on the Tour de France, just as he did in 2018 alongside Movistar co-leaders Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde.

The 2020 route seems as good for him as possible, with plenty of climbing and only a single time trial, though even that is tilted towards the climbers given its rolling roads and finish atop La Planche des Belle Filles.

"It has a very appropriate course this year. There are lots of climbs and very few time trials. It's a very good opportunity," Landa said.

"It's the main goal of the season, but also before that there are lots of important races where I'd like to be ready to challenge. But I'm working in the way that we want to focus on the Tour."

Those earlier races include Itzulia Basque Country and the Ardennes Classics, where he'll be looking at his first peak of the season. Before that, Landa will start his campaign at the Ruta del Sol in Andalucia, before either racing Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice. The Critérium du Dauphiné will be his Tour preparation race.

Mikel Landa attacking on the Sassotetto climb in Tirreno-Adriatico

Mikel Landa attacking on the Sassotetto climb in Tirreno-Adriatico (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

But aside from the Tour, there's another major race that a number of climbers will have their eye on next summer: the road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. For Landa, it's something he's interested in, but not to the extent that he's specifically building his campaign around it, as Nibali has.

"I would like to be at the Olympic Games. I think for a climber it's good to have that kind of race. But everyone knows that it's difficult to arrive there less than one week after the Tour, and with the change in time zone too.

"I'd like to go there, have that experience and try to do something. Why not? And also, the World Championships [another climber's course in Switzerland], I think. They're both very hard. Maybe this year I won't arrive in the best condition, but I'd like to be in both.

"Both races, the Tour and Olympics, are very difficult. The Olympics is just one day though, so it's very difficult to win. The Tour is also very difficult, but my goal – and the team's goal – is the Tour. So, I can't miss this opportunity."