Mikel Landa (Team Sky) will likely be one of his team's key players in the mountains this year, starting on Wednesday at La Planche des Belles Filles, where the Basque climber predicts important differences, although 'not enormous ones' at the finish.
"It will be an explosive kind of final climb, there will be differences and gaps, but not enormous ones," Landa told Cyclingnews on Tuesday morning of the Tour de France.
"I've never been in these climbs before and I've never raced in the area, in fact, but I've seen the profile of the ascent and it's going to be a hard one."
While Sky still have the top two spots overall, Landa says that Chris Froome, logically, stays as overall leader, "because Thomas doesn't have the same kind of palmares. But if he's in as good shape for the climbs as he is for the time trials, then we'll definitely make the most of that.
Landa rode the Giro d'Italia alongside Geraint Thomas as co-leader, ultimately securing a King of the Mountains title in the race as well as a stage win after he crashed badly, together with the Welshman, at the foot of the Blockhaus, losing all GC options.
Landa says he is not very sure of his race form, yet, given "it's been a month since the Giro and it's not been easy to maintain my focus during all that period. I'm still uncertain on how I'm going to recover from each day's effort here. So I'm slowly getting back into top form, hoping to do well.
"I want to get through the flat stages too, I'm taking it day by day, because any kind of fall can cause you a problem in the Tour."
Landa came through the first uphill finish at Longwy well, finishing in the same group as Froome and Thomas and is currently lying 35th, 1:08 back. "It was important to save the day yesterday, get in the move ahead, I was pleased with that, getting through the stages as I wanted to," he said Tuesday.
"Mentally, it's different doing a race like this one as a domestique rather than a leader. I'm not here to win, but I'm under less pressure and you can learn a lot more about a race and enjoy it in a different way."
Landa is not, he says, an automatic fan of the Tour de France. "It's not one I particularly like, neither the climbs not the style it's raced," he said. "Maybe the day I come here to try something for myself [as a leader], I'll like it more."
The decreasing number of kilometres in time trialling in the Tour, he said, "suits me very well." There is no clear indication yet where Landa, whose contract with Sky ends this year, will race next season. But when a Spanish journalist asked Landa if this could be the last Grand Tour he did as a domestique for another leader, he grinned and said, "I hope so, I hope that things change a little, including my role, in the future."
For now, though, the slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles await Landa and the rest of the Tour field.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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