Landa motivated by return to top of Tour de France battle

LARUNS FRANCE SEPTEMBER 06 Mikel Landa Meana of Spain and Team Bahrain Mclaren Richie Porte of Australia and Team Trek Segafredo Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates Breakaway during the 107th Tour de France 2020 Stage 9 a 153km stage from Pau to Laruns 495m TDF2020 LeTour on September 06 2020 in Laruns France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Mikel Landa on Sunday's stage 9 of the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Down and almost out in the Tour de France on Friday, back in the game on Saturday and up with the biggest favourites on Sunday, Mikel Landa's tradition of roller-coaster Grand Tour racing continued unabated in this year's race. The Bahrain McLaren leader was confident that he has yet to reach his upper limit.

More than four years have come and gone since Dave Brailsford signed Mikel Landa, who placed third in the 2015 Giro d'Italia, and told Cyclingnews he was a future major contender for the Grand Tours, saying, "He's got an 'X' factor, that makes you think 'this is a big star in the making'."

Since then, Landa has failed to net a single Grand Tour podium finish, but he has always remained tantalizingly close to doing so. His strong showing in the Pyrenees, despite his umpteenth setback on Friday, suggested that once again the Basque champion is in the frame for the Tour de France this year.

"It feels like I'm always falling behind then picking myself back up again," Landa reflected in his rest day press conference, before falling into a familiarly poetic vein by insisting that, "comebacks form part of the epic nature of this sport."

When it comes to battling with his Tour de France destiny, in what's still to come in the 2020 race, Landa insisted, "We have to remain ambitious, there's a long way to go and even if the rivals seem strong, there could be surprises. The podium is possible, and I have to stay focussed on that."

Landa was one of several contenders to lose 1:21 in the crosswinds to Lavaur on stage 7 - his only major mistake of the Tour.

"If I hadn't lost that minute and a half on Friday, then things would be perfect. And if I feel like I did in the Pyrenees, I think I can do something important. The differences haven't been too big so far," Landa said.

Now 10th overall, he is refusing to see his 1:42 gap behind race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) as definitive, and given 81 of those seconds were lost in an echelon, many observers would give Landa the benefit of any potential doubt.

The Basque recognised that it's not just about playing catch-up. He would need to reach the final time trial, which will have "a major influence" on the GC, with a healthy time cushion over any other rivals, given that chronos are, as he put it, "my Achilles heel."

Failings of Greek demi-gods apart, Landa's dream of vanquishing the odd Slovenian hero or two and conquering the Mount Olympus of the yellow jersey remained undiminished despite the setbacks.

One objective - being his team's sole leader after having to share that honour both with teams Sky and Movistar - has already been achieved with Bahrain McLaren and Landa recognised he preferred it that way. 

"Despite our setbacks," he said, referring to Rafael Valls and Wout Poels' bad crashes, "they've been with me 100 per cent."

Whatever is around the corner for Landa, as with all the other riders in the Tour, the ongoing PCR tests for COVID-19 and their possible effects on the race tomorrow and beyond continued to form a concern.

"It's worrying," Landa recognised, "but hopefully with all the right measures it'll be sorted out OK and we can move on." 

Like in all the best stories just as one obstacle is overcome another crops up - something true for all riders, but for Landa, seemingly more so.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.