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Landa: Taking pink at the Giro for just one day would be a dream come true

Team Bahrains Spanish rider Mikel Landa R cycles in a breakaway ahead of Team Ineos Ecuadorian rider Richard Carapaz L during the 9th stage of the Giro dItalia 2022 cycling race 191 kilometers between Isernia and the Blockhaus mountain in the Majella national park near Chieti southern Italy on May 15 2022 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images
Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) leads the race up the Blockhaus climb on stage 9 (Image credit: LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images)

Mikel Landa has never stopped hoping that he could one day be in a position to fight to stand the tallest on the Giro d'Italia's final podium. But as the 32-year-old Basque himself put it on this Monday's rest day in Pescara, 2022 could the year that he actually does it.

It's not just that Landa has made it through a first week which in 2017 and 2021 saw him either out of the GC battle or out of the race altogether.

Historically things have never been so good for Landa at this point of the Giro, the first week rest day, as he lies seventh at 29 seconds.

Even in 2015, when he was en route to a breakthrough podium place behind Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru, things had not looked so promising.

Then, by stage 9 Landa had lost time on a fraught uphill finale at Abetone and – albeit lying fourth overall – he was already 48 seconds adrift on leader Contador. In 2016, Landa had ridden one of his best ever time trials in Chianti, but was still 1:18 back on maglia rosa Gianluca Brambilla and, in any case, after the rest day Landa  promptly fell sick and abandoned mid-stage.

But in 2022, it's a different story for the Bahrain Victorious leader despite two crashes on the Blockhaus stage, which have left him, "feeling battered from where I hit the ground and with a good sized scratch as well."

"But it's nothing too serious," he added in the rest day press conference. "The falls basically meant I wasn't as aggressive as I might have been at the finale. Let's hope that yesterday was my last day of bad luck."

Even if he was feeling the effects of those falls on the Blockhaus and "pedaling oddly" as he put it on Sunday evening, Landa said he was "happy with the result," which saw him finish fourth on the stage.

Perhaps more importantly, prior the small group sprint which decided the stage, he had been one of just two riders, together with Romain Bardet (Team DSM), able to follow Richard Carapaz's all-out attack with 4.5km to go

"We could have taken time," Landa commented about the three man move, "but we all wanted the stage win and that made us hesitate."

"Nobody wanted to take too many risks, either. There were lots of changes of wind direction, none of us knew what we were capable of doing on the climb because it was the first big mountain stage of the race where there'd been a GC battle and we wanted to keep something back just in case. So in my case I just tried to follow the biggest contender, Carapaz and take it from there."

Post-Blockhaus, Landa strongly tipped Carapaz as being the key favourite of the race at this point, although he also said João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and stage winner Jai Hindley (Team DSM) were two other top contenders for GC.

But in terms of himself, Landa reconfirmed on Monday what he had already told Cyclingnews before the Giro, that the overall victory is still his "dream."

"I've been dreaming of it for years," Landa, whose sole career Grand Tour podium dates from that now distant 2015 Giro, said.

"But in previous Giros the rivals have been stronger than me or there have been too many stones in my road. Yet so far so good this time. It could be the year."

Landa's career best result of fourth overall in the 2019 Giro came in a year when then Movistar teammate Carapaz was the outright winner on GC. But this year, with the two riders on different teams, Landa has a different perspective on the race.

"I could win it, I'm up there in the mountains and there is not much time trialling left," he said Monday.

"Even to take the pink jersey for just one day would be a dream come true. Yesterday [Sunday] was a good day and a bad day at the same time. So let's go on dreaming."

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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.