Mikel Landa's move to Team Sky is one of the most significant changes amongst the Grand Tour contenders for 2016 and the Basque rider begins the next segment of his career with his eyes set firmly on the Giro d'Italia, where he came third this year behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Fabio Aru (Astana).
Landa will turn 26 in December and has already been tipped as a possible successor to Joaquim Rodriguez, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde as the Spain's big-name stage racer. It has been a long wait for a new face of such characteristics in Spanish cycling, and as such, Landa's performance in the Giro d'Italia next year, where he will lead Team Sky, will be watched very closely in Spain.
For Team Sky, Landa represents further change. He will be their fifth different Giro d'Italia leader in as many years. The British team will be hoping Landa fits the bill after Bradley Wiggins and Richie Porte failed to live up to expectations. The Basque climber says will be looking "to go all out for everything" even though the Giro d'Italia route is not, he tells Cyclingnews, totally to his liking. Exactly how well he can do on it, we will find out next May.
Cyclingnews: First off, when did Team Sky start to get interested in signing you?
Mikel Landa: They were very interested in me ever since the beginning of 2015 and they'd been following my progress closely for quite a few years. Then after I got third in the Giro d'Italia, they were much more interested, they offered me a very ambitious overall plan, and that's what made me want to sign for them.
CN: It seemed also pretty clear that the Astana team had decided their leaders and that if you wanted to progress any further you had to move on. Was that the case?
ML: That's true. In Astana, there were two leaders for the years to come and I couldn't find a space for me. I wanted to try being a leader and this was the way to do it.
CN: What do you know about next year's Giro d'Italia? Have you looked at the route?
ML: A bit. It could maybe suit me better. I could do with more summit finishes, of the Zoncolan type, for example. That would suit me the best. But it's got a lot of hard stages in the mountains, even if the finishes in the first week aren't as hard as this year's Giro. And I like that time trial, although I'm going to have to work very hard at that: there are three time trials and I can't afford to lose much time there.
CN: Team Sky has a Basque coach in its team staff, Xabier Artetxe, will you be working much with him?
ML: Yes, I'm in contact with him a lot, although I think Tim Kerrison will the one overseeing it all for me.
CN: Is your race program decided yet?
ML: Not yet. But the objective will be the Giro d'Italia and before that I think I'll do Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta al País Vasco.
CN: Similar to this year?
ML: Yes, very similar.
CN: Do you want to get to the Giro d'Italia with the same number of race days?
ML: Yes, maybe a few more than last year, because last year I started my season in the Volta a Catalunya.
CN: It was quite a hard start to this year, wasn't it, with your cytomegalovirus illness wrecking your off-season so badly? How badly did it mess things up for you?
ML: A lot. I had to rest up for a little longer than expected and couldn't start racing until March.
No training just yet
CN: Are you already training for next year?
ML: Not yet. Not yet. I want to get a good rest, have a month off the bike in total, so I won't start training for at least another week.
CN: How much of a say do you have about who will do the Giro with you?
ML: We'll all decide it, between me, the team and the riders. In the next training camp in Mallorca we'll have a good look at that, I imagine, see which riders I need when we look at the route profile. We have to study the Giro route well.
CN: How well do you speak English?
ML: I'm good at it, and I imagine with my teammates I'll get better, there won't be a problem.
CN: You have already been with Sky in London?
ML: Yes, we were there for for four days, it was a bit of a meet up and getting to know the staff, my teammates, and so on, as well as going to the Sky headquarters.
CN: The next training camp is in Mallorca?
ML: Yes. That's when we'll start training together, in December.
CN: After the Giro, are the Olympics an objective?
ML: I think the route is very good for climbers, they say it's very hard. I like it. I'd like to take part. But racing the Giro is maybe not the best approach path for Rio.
CN: Is next year a year for adapting to a new team or a year for going all out from the gun at Sky or a year of taking it step by step and seeing what happen?
ML: I'm going to go all out for it, 100 percent. I'm going to do that because I'm feeling really ambitious. The team will be supporting me a lot, to try and win the Giro d'Italia. It's true I'm new and I'm going to have to adapt, so I'll have to be a bit cautious.
CN: Have you talked with Sky about doing the Tour at all?
ML: No. The objective is the Giro and then we'll see.
CN: From the Spanish angle, there's an increasing amount of expectation about what you can as Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez slowly approach the ends of their careers. How do you handle that? Do you pay that pressure much attention?
ML: I don't pay any attention to it. People have their expectations about me, I take them as compliments and it's always nice to fulfil them. Let's see how I get on. But they're nice to have, they act as motivation.
CN: Have you changed much since you took your first pro win, back in 2011, when you beat [that year's Vuelta a España winner] Juan Jose Cobo in the Lagunas de Neila summit finish in the Vuelta a Burgos? Is there still much of that racer still in your racing now?
ML: All of it. I'm exactly the same. A bit more experienced. But I'm the same.
CN: Do you still train with the same group of riders as back then?
ML: More or less. Some of them have had to quit professional racing, others are in different teams, and I think I'm training more by myself than before. But I don't mind too much about that.
CN: You still live in your home region of the Basque Country, so I'm guessing that victory in Aia in the Vuelta al País Vasco this spring was a really important moment, given you'd been affected by that illness over the winter?
ML: It was something which gave me a lot of confidence, particularly as it was my second race of the season.
CN: And how, having won in the Basque Country, did you look at this year's Giro after that?
ML: I wanted a stage win and to do as well as I could in the overall, but I never thought that I could make the podium, I wanted the top ten at most.
CN: So it's fair to say you still don't know what your limits are?
ML: I don't know what they are yet.
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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