He's still here. On losing 27 minutes following his crash at the base of the Blockhaus last Sunday, it appeared as though Mikel Landa's days on this Giro d'Italia were numbered, but the Basque remains in the race and on the hunt for a stage win as the corsa rosa reaches the Alps.
Early on Friday morning, Landa's Team Sky stable-mate Geraint Thomas, a faller in the same crash on the Blockhaus stage, abandoned the Giro, citing the shoulder and, in particular, knee injuries that he had picked up in the incident.
When Thomas recovered sufficiently to place a fine second in the Montefalco time trial, it briefly looked as though he might be able to haul his way back into contention for a place in top five overall, or even the podium. After haemorrhaging time on the two successive days, however, Thomas has left the race, and Sky's sole objective now is to pick up a stage win.
"It's changed a bit for us now, because we've lost the chance to get a decent place on the general classification," Landa told Cyclingnews. "It's all about trying to win a stage now.
Read more on this article
- Thomas abandons the Giro d'Italia
- Giro d'Italia: Boomerang stage for Landa with long-distance break followed by time loss
- Geraint Thomas: I've worked too hard to give up
- Thomas and Landa cleared of major injury after Giro d'Italia crash
- Brailsford: Landa's Giro d'Italia attack 'keeps them guessing'
- Giro d'Italia: Landa tries to inject chaos with surprise late attack
Landa and Thomas set out from Sardinia two weeks ago as Sky's co-leaders as the British squad sought to shake off its underwhelming track-record in the Giro. Landa's surprise attack on the road to Peschici last Saturday seemed to signal his intentions for the race, but his hopes of bettering his podium finish of 2015 were dashed the moment a police motorbike braked abruptly on the roadside twenty kilometres from the end of stage 9.
"It's still not easy to accept," Landa said. "It's not just all my work or all of Geraint's work, but the work of the whole team that's gone up in smoke. The whole team worked so much before that crash, and that crash wasn't our fault. It was a badly-parked motorbike, and in one second, we lost everything."
As a bloodied Landa limped onto the Sky bus atop the Blockhaus on Sunday afternoon, it seemed his Giro had come to a premature end for the second successive year, and the prognosis hardly seemed more encouraging when he posted a picture of his swollen leg on social media during the rest day in Umbria.
After nursing himself around the Montefalco time trial course on Tuesday, Landa surprised by going on the offensive on the following day's leg through the Apennines to Bagno di Romagna, even if, like a latter-day José Maria Jimenez, he eventually paid a price for his aggression and came home more than 13 minutes down. At the finish that afternoon, Landa simply shrugged at the time lost and smilingly said that he was "looking for new reasons to stay in the race."
"I'm recovering well. The blow to my leg hurts me a little bit less every day so now I'm hoping to be able to try to win some stages in the last week if I can," Landa said in Reggio Emilia on Friday morning.
The first such opportunity could arrive on the summit finish at Oropa on Saturday afternoon. The 11.8-kilometre haul to the finish is far from the toughest on this Giro, and Landa, now 48th overall, some 43:55 off the maglia rosa of Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), should be afforded plenty of leeway.
"It's certain that tomorrow some of the GC riders will be looking to make the difference," he said. "I'll have to stay close to them, and then if they start watching one another, I might be able to take my chance."
Earlier in the week, Landa claimed that he would have been able to follow Nairo Quintana's stage-winning accelerations on the Blockhaus were it not for his fall at the base of the climb. Six days on from that crash, Landa is as yet unsure if he has recuperated enough to go toe to toe with the podium contenders in the mountains.
"Let's hope so, eh. I think tomorrow will be a nice test in that regard. I'll get an idea of whether I'm able to ride with the best, or if I'll have to try to get into breaks," Landa said.
As well as looking to salvage his and Sky's Giro, Landa is also riding to secure a contract for the 2018 campaign, as his current deal expires at the end of this season. His former team Astana is understood to be among his possible suitors. Third place at the 2015 Giro marked Landa out as a potential Grand Tour winner, but his market value will not have been helped by his travails at the two editions of the race since.
"I manage not to think about it too much," Landa said of his 2018 contract talks, and smiled: "Otherwise, I'd go mad."
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