Mikel Landa (Team Sky) has said that it hurts just a little that he was never given the opportunity to fight for a podium spot at the Tour de France. Landa missed out on the final podium place in Paris by just a single second to Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale).
Landa did his best to remain pragmatic about missing out but admitted in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais that he felt angry following stage 18 to the Col d'Izoard. The 27-year-old lamented the fact that he had sacrificed his own opportunities without gaining anything for the team on that day, when his leader Chris Froome finished with his main rivals Bardet and Rigoberto Uran while he lost 12 seconds in the general classification.
"I have always tried to do my best for my leaders and my colleagues. And sometimes you expect that in return, but sometimes things go as they do in your head and not all situations are the same," said Landa. "On the day of the Izoard I could have lifted my foot when they caught me, I could have sat on the wheel, and I would not have lost 12 seconds, but I got ahead and pushed it, which was what Froome wanted, although it was not so good either.
"He told me to be slower, slower. That day I was very angry because I sacrificed myself without making gains for the team. At no time was the Tour de Froome at risk, and not having made a profit it broke me, to sacrifice my aspiration... it hurts."
Landa almost pulled back enough time to get himself onto the podium with a strong time trial performance, combined with a complete capitulation from Bardet. The Frenchman was visibly in trouble throughout the stage and Landa, who finished just ahead of him, could only watch as Bardet raced to the line. It looked like Bardet might just drop off the podium, but he held onto it by the skin of his teeth. Despite missing out by such a close margin, Landa says that he didn't feel too disappointed because he had already come to terms with it.
"Because I had never really seen myself on the podium. There was a moment of euphoria before Bardet arrived, but as I did not go to bed with my image on the podium the night before, it was not hard either," he said. "I did not lose it in that moment, I lost it two days before [on the Izoard – ed]."
Landa said, though, that there were no hard feelings between himself and Froome. "From the first moment Brailsford handled the situation very well, forced us to communicate a lot, not to save anything, and for my part, and I suppose on his part, too, we have talked about everything so that there would be nothing bad. We all came as one, and that's how it was."
At times, Landa appeared to be the strongest rider on the Team Sky squad, but he had to swallow his ambitions to help his leader. While he was happy to pitch in and play the team role, he doesn't want to be stuck in that role again.
"I would not want to be in this situation again, it's so frustrating," said Landa. "Just as I do not need to be remembered as a winner of this or that, I do not want to be remembered as the one who could have been and was not, the one who had a Giro or Tour in the legs and did not win. I would like to win one, or at least try, and if failure or success comes, let it be for my own sake."
Landa might get such freedoms next season. He is out of contract with Team Sky at the end of the season and is heavily speculated to be moving to Movistar for 2018. While he didn't confirm his destination for next season, there were hints throughout the interview that he would be with a new team, with references to his "future team" and a "new boss."
When asked if he would consider moving back to a Spanish team, he said: "It's something to take into account. Astana was an Italian block that bet on the Italians; Sky is British with a British leader. It will be what is but more important than anything, the boss bets on me, to be the apple of his eye.”"
If, as is expected, Landa does head to Movistar he will have to fight for leadership opportunities with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana. Valverde is in the twilight of his career and Quintana may well leave at the end of next season, but they have to get through 2018 first.
"Yes, yes, in all the teams there are already established leaders, but there is a calendar to distribute and, anyway, the boss will know how to manage it," explained Landa.