Mikel Landa went into the Vuelta a Burgos with his role very much one of working for Euskaltel-Euskadi team leader Samuel Sánchez. However, when the exertions of the last month and a half caught up with Sánchez on the key final stage to Lagunas de Neila, 21-year-old Landa was given the chance to show what he can do and delivered an impressive demonstration of his talent.
Heading up the final climb, Landa was with the highly experienced Juan José Cobo less than half a kilometre from the finish, but then accelerated away to finish three seconds clear of the Geox rider at the summit to claim his first victory as a pro in his debut season in the elite ranks. The win also gave him the mountains title, underlining where his talent lies.
The victory is even more impressive when you consider that Landa has spent a good deal of his first pro season on the sidelines recovering from two bad crashes. The first occurred in the Vuelta a Murcia back in March, when he crashed on the descent of the Collado Bermejo, breaking his right collar-bone. That put him out of race action until May.
Just a month after returning, Landa was hit by more bad luck when a herd of cows wandered into the road on a descent during the penultimate stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné. He collided with one of them, ending up in hospital with a suspected fracture of his left collar-bone this time. Fortunately, the bone wasn’t broken, but Landa was forced to sit out again for a few weeks to allow his injuries to heal.
The young Basque has long been earmarked for big things. The first rider to advance all the way through the Euskadi structure via their Naturgas junior team, then the Orbea continental team and, after just one impressive year there, into the Euskaltel ranks, Landa is very much on the mould of his team-mates Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve, who are both pure climbers.
His ability on the climbs carried him as high as fourth place overall in last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, although he slipped back to fifth in the final mountain time trial to Risoul. That result guaranteed him selection for the World Championships in Australia, where he finished 18th in the under-23 road race in the same time as winner Michael Matthews. It was also enough to convince Euskaltel boss Igor González de Galdeano that Landa was ready to step up to the top level after just that single season with Orbea.
Although the youngest of a crop of talents who have stepped up into Euskaltel ranks in the last two seasons, including Romain Sicard, Jonathan Castroviejo and the Izagirre brothers, Landa has, according to González de Galdeano, something that makes him stand out. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him and I think that he’s a special case, because in spite of being the youngest [of this group], there is something in his character that suggests that he will be able to cope with the jump up in class and begin to make a name for himself.”
Landa’s victory at Lagunas de Neila emphasizes that his team boss was not wrong.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).