Fresh from his Vuelta a Burgos success and keen to put memories of his Giro d’Italia crash behind him, Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) opens another chapter in the rollercoaster Grand Tour career of on Saturday, where the Basque rider will target a place on the podium a top at the 2021 Vuelta a España.
The 31-year-old has not finished on the podium of a Grand Tour since the Giro d’Italia in 2015 but in both the 2017 Tour de France in 2017 and the 2019 Giro d’Italia, he came within a handful of seconds of success. Crashes, injuries and misfortune have often derailed Landa’s Grand Tour campaigns just when he looked within grasp of success. He has often been the strongest and most aggressive rider in the mountains only to be let down by his time trialing ability.
The Vuelta a España represents a fresh chance for Landa to make his mark on a Grand Tour, the 16th of his career and where, together with Enric Mas (Movistar) he will carry Spain’s overall hopes.
Landa crashed out of this year’s Giro on stage 5, suffering a broken left collarbone and multiple rib fractures but showed he is back on form at the recent Vuelta a Burgos. He hopes to ride the recent wave of success sweeping over Bahrain Victorious but was critical of the police raid on the team’s hotel during the Tour de France.
In a lengthy interview with Basque newspaper Deia ahead of the Vuelta, Landa recognised that overall victory in Burgos was a surprising after a “not brilliant” showing on the first summit finish of Picón Blanco but he followed up with a much steadier performance on the last day’s ascent to Lagunas de Neila, securing overall victory.
“Winning in Burgos has been very important for me after such a long time without competing,” Landa said.
Landa was unable to train for a lengthy spell of time or with much intensity after his Giro crash. As a result his aim in the Vuelta will be to try not to lose time in the first half.
The return to the Picon Blanco barely a fortnight after Burgos on stage 3 will represent what he called “a good test” with the idea being to open up the throttle in the second half of the three-week race.
“I’m feeling really motivated for the Vuelta. I have barely raced this year and I’ve got a score to settle after the Giro. But I have to be cautious. I’m still not in top condition,” he observed.
“After Burgos my objective has to be to do well overall. I’m looking for a podium finish and a stage win. I’ll try to hold on in the first week and then see how competitive I can be from the second onwards.”
Landa is more than satisfied, he told Deia, with Bahrain Victorious formidable line-up for the Vuelta, which includes the 2021 Giro d'Italia podium finisher Damiano Caruso.
Also present are 2011 Angliru winner Wout Poels, talented Australian climber and classification option Jack Haig, double Dauphiné stage winner Mark Padun, and the up-and-coming Swiss racer Gino Mäder, who fended off Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) for a first week summit finish victory in this year’s Giro.
The Vuelta time trial and the Tour de France police raid
While the Vuelta route is generally to Landa’s liking, with the third week stages in the mountains of Asturias particularly suitable for him, he said that he was not so certain if the final time trial would be that favourable.
“In other circumstances I’d say a final TT would be good for me because most people are running on fumes by then so there aren’t so many differences between the specialists and the rest of the field,” he argued.
“But since the Giro crash I’ve only been out on the TT bike twice at most. So I’d be happier with an easier final stage through Santiago. But it’s not like that, so I’ll have to bear in mind that that day I could lose some time.”
Indeed, in the 2019 Giro, Landa was ousted from the third overall in the race’s final time trial by Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).
Landa did not race the Tour de France due to his crash injuries but according to Deia, he described the police raid on the team in the third week as “senseless.”
“It was surreal,” the newspaper quoted Landa as saying, “maybe when you’re there you have another vision of things, I don’t know. But from outside, you see it as nonsensical and just part of a show.”
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