When he rolled across the Ruta del Sol finish line at Otura on stage 3, Basque racer Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) was nearly three minutes back on winner Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers). But his big grin as he eased to a stop to take a recovery drink from team soigneurs was testament to the Basque's powerful riding late on the stage, and the immense satisfaction he had taken from it.
After talking to Cyclingnews at the start of stage 3, Landa had said that he was hoping to end the Ruta stronger than he started and perhaps fight for a stage win if that happened.
When it was put to him that nobody had expected him to go for it that soon as he both chased down attackers Simon Yates (Team Bike Exchange-Jayco), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana-Qazaqstan) and Bora-Hansgrohe's Lennard Kamna, he flashed another smile and replied: "neither did I!"
"It was a way of helping the team, it was a key moment, there were some important riders from other teams up there, and somebody had to get up there," he explained.
At the end of the stage, after the group of half a dozen attackers swelled to around 30, Landa was once again at the pointy end of the action, driving hard for several kilometres.
"It was a smallish group, and we wanted to see what we could do to keep the move away. But the important thing is the legs felt good," he said.
Landa sat up at the end of the stage, rolling in nearly three minutes down, but despite his strong ride, in the global scheme of things, he said, he still wanted to start the season more gently than other years.
"That's because I want to get the Giro in as good shape as possible and then head on to the Tour. I want to be as fresh as possible for both Grand Tours," he insisted.
A repeat of his 2021 ride in his home race, la Itzulia is unlikely, he argued, although not totally out of the question.
"Given the situation [a reference to the pandemic - Ed.] we're going through, everybody's race program is changing a lot," he admitted.
"I'll go for stage races, hopefully Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Alps, but we'll have to see. Then there will be a training camp at altitude in Teide before the Giro d'Italia."
Landa brushed aside suggestions that at the Giro d'Italia he would be trying to bury the memories of last year's terrible stroke of misfortune when he was the victim of a very serious first-week crash and abandon.
"I'm used to it," he said, in an ironic reference to his rollercoaster career, which also saw him crash heavily in the Giro in 2017.
"I've had some good luck and some bad luck in my time. I want to forget it as soon as possible. My aim is to do two Grand Tours, the Giro and the Tour. I've done well in both in the past and I like that idea."
While the 2015 Giro remains his only Grand Tour podium finish, Landa has taken fourth in the Tour de France, and he said the GC would be his goal in both races.
"The first week of the Tour is very nervous so I'll see what my options are soon there," he explained.
As for who could be supporting him in the Giro d'Italia, he said the constant Covid-19-induced changes of race program made it difficult to predict a line-up right now.
"But for sure it'll be a good team that'll help me a lot, like the one I had last year there. I've got a lot of confidence in them."
All he is asking the cycling gods for in 2022 was to stay healthy.
"What happens is whatever happens. The rest I'll sort out myself," he said.
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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 Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.