Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) may have been nervous before the Vuelta a España’s first summit finish on Monday but he nonetheless managed to perform well above his own expectations on the Picón Blanco and retain all his GC options.
The Basque broke his collarbone and several ribs in the Giro d’Italia this May and despite winning the Vuelta a Burgos last week by his own admission the Bahrain Victorious leader had not performed brilliantly when the local stage race tackled Picón Blanco 10 days ago.
This time round though and despite being on a much tougher scenario, Landa created a far better impression, even putting his team to work on the toughest middle section of the climb.
Teammates Mark Padun and Wout Poels kept the pace high at the front of the leaders’ group for several kilometres, and causing key riders like Richie Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) to lose contact. But even if Landa did not follow their effort up with which his own attack, he still looked in solid form for the remainder of the climb.
Landa finally crossed the line in the same time as leading favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and in ninth place. As a result of his ride, Landa has gained a whopping 34 places overall to move into 10th overall.
Meanwhile on a good day for Bahrain Victorious all round, talented young Swiss racer and Giro stage winner Gino Mader is now in 11th on GC, while even Damiano Caruso, the Giro runner-up who has returned to his usual domestique duties for the Vuelta, has moved up to 15th.
Still on the recovery trail and suffering from a notable dearth of race days this season after his terrible Giro crash, Landa said that such a solid climb of Picón Blanco had considerably boosted his confidence.
“My objective is to get through these days as best I can and I’m certainly much calmer about that now. I’m feeling more certain that I will be getting better as the days go on and now I can feel more ambitious about my chances,” he told reporters.
“I hadn’t felt at all confident about today’s stage but I’ve been able to be up there with the best.
“The stage was a long hard one, with a lot of headwind all the way, and that influenced how the stage played out. We laid down a hard pace on the climb, seeing how I felt as we went on, and finally I can say I’m happy with how it went.”
Landa pointed to Movistar duo Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López as the two most impressive performers on Picón Blanco, along with former race leader and arch-favourite Roglič. But his own ride was by no means one of the worst of the pre-race Vuelta favourites, either.
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