Santiago Buitrago and Mikel Landa represented the two very different faces of Bahrain Victorious’ day at the Giro d’Italia, and the joy and disappointment of Grand Tour racing.
The young Colombian came back from an early crash to win the stage to Lavarone, while team leader Landa was able to hang with Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the steep late climb, with some superb and vital support works from Wout Poels, but was distanced on the kick to the line and lost precious six seconds.
Buitrago sparked a spontaneous gathering of Colombian fans behind the mixed zone as he spoke to the growing Colombian media in Italy. The fans chanted his name, asked for selfies and waved flags from his home country as they celebrated his second professional victory and another win for Colombian cycling in Europe.
Landa made the effort to search out Buitrago in the mixed zone after being called to anti-doping and gave him a long, affectionate hug of congratulations, as if they were brothers.
“We knew that Santiago was talented. He really fought to get in the break today just like other times and then today he finished it off. That’s special,” Landa said with admiration.
Asked about his own race, Landa struggled to be as equally enthusiastic. “I think my day went pretty well,” he said, a long sigh better expressing his sense of fatigue and disappointment.
“We managed to distance Almeida but the others are a little stronger than I am."
Landa lost six seconds to Carapaz and Hindley and so slipped to 1:05 down on the Ineos Grenadiers leader and 1:02 down on the Australian.
He fought hard during the stage as the growing fatigue turned the day into an elimination race. He attacked near ther top of the steep final Menador climb, his hands on the drops in his trademark style. That was enough to distance João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), who lost a minute and slipped to fourth below Landa, who climbed up to third overall.
Landa had Poels to help pace him and encourage him after the Dutch rider dropped from the break of the day. They fought to stay with Carapaz and Hindley but then Landa cracked a little in sight of the line as the road to Lavarone kicked up at four per cent. The six seconds pushed his deficit over the psychologically important minute-mark.
With just the testing stage to the Santuario di Castelmonte on Friday and the mountain finish to the Marmolada on Saturday, Landa is running out of places to attack his overall rivals and so bring back time before Sunday’s Verona time trial. He is arguably the weakest time trialist of the trio and so perhaps needs a lead of at least 20 second if he is to win the Giro.
Landa seems destined and perhaps will be happy to finish on the final podium in Verona but he refused to give up hope of turning the tables in the final stages.
“Until the Giro ends, we’ve got to keep attacking and keep trying,” he said defiantly.
“Saturday’s stage to the Marmolada is really, really difficult but we’ve got to believe we can do something. I’ve got a chance of finishing on the podium but that’s not enough for us, so we fight on.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.