Mikel Landa: The team is behind me at the Tour de France

BURGOS SPAIN JULY 28 Mikel Landa Meana of Spain and Team Bahrain McLaren during the 42nd Vuelta a Burgos 2020 Stage 1 a 157km stage from Burgos to Burgos Alto del Castillo 976m VueltaBurgos on July 28 2020 in Burgos Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images
Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren) at the Vuelta a Burgos (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

During two-year spells with Astana, Team Sky and then Movistar, Mikel Landa (opens in new tab) never got the chance to be an outright leader at a Grand Tour, his personal objectives either sidelined for strategic and political reasons or undermined by tactical confusion.

With Bahrain McLaren (opens in new tab), though, the Spanish climber has finally been given the opportunity to be an undisputed GC leader, and says he's relishing the chance to challenge for the yellow jersey at the Tour de France (opens in new tab).

"People trust me, the team is behind me, this means that we can do good things. I'm really, really confident," Landa said at Bahrain's eve-of-Tour press conference.

"We started the season with a clear goal – we want to win the Tour de France. We're here at the start of the Tour to fight for the win."

With his palmarès including a career-best fourth place at the 2017 Tour de France with Sky and sixth in last year's race in Movistar's colours, the 30-year-old Basque rider agreed that he's not one of the favourites for the title, but said that's normal given the quality of the Tour field. He also pointed out that this status could work in his favour.

"It should make things a bit more comfortable for us because we don't have the responsibility to control our rivals, we won't have to work, and we want to benefit from that," he said.

"It's a very mountainous route from day one with lots of terrain that should suit me. Maybe we can take advantage of this. I'm certainly motivated by this prospect."

Landa played down the Tour as being a now-or-never opportunity for him after so many years of being a first lieutenant.

"It's a great opportunity, not now or never, but a good opportunity that I have to take," he said. "I've been around for a few years now and the younger riders are coming through strongly. So I do need to make the most of this chance."

Bahrain's leader picked out another former Sky rider and team newcomer, Dutchman Wout Poels, as a teammate who will be critical to his GC hopes.

"Wout will be my best teammate in the last moments [of climbs]. We've seen before how he can split a group of favourites and I think he's going to be very helpful," he said.

NICE FRANCE AUGUST 28 Mikel Landa Meana of Spain and Team Bahrain Mclaren Rod Ellingworth of United Kingdom General Manager Team Bahrain Mclaren during the 107th Tour de France 2020 Team Bahrain McLaren Press Conference Virtual Press Conference TDF2020 LeTour on August 28 2020 in Nice France Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Mikel Landa and Rod Ellingworth at Bahrain McLaren's virtual press conference (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Sitting beside his leader, Bahrain McLaren team manager Rod Ellingworth – another relatively new addition to a team which has been revamped for 2020 – said he is expecting the Tour to be particularly intense right from the start.

"I think there are two reasons this. Firstly, the opening few days are a real challenge. I think it's quite an exceptional start compared to other years and that will create opportunities for some riders," Ellingworth said.

"Secondly, because of the situation we all find ourselves in in the world of sport, some teams are potentially facing some financial issues and lots of riders are still out of contract and wanting to prove themselves. This is the shop window for them to do that. 

"I can certainly see every day being quite intense. The Tour won't be won in the first week, but I'm sure some people will find that the Tour's slipped away from them for one reason or another come the end of it."

Ellingworth also touched on the absence of sprinter Mark Cavendish from Bahrain McLaren's Tour team. The British sprinter has won 30 stages at the Tour through the years, and had hoped a move to the team would revitalise his career. A lack of racing due to the COVID-19 break meant that he missed out (opens in new tab), however.

"The situation we've had with not racing has worked against him. When you've had two years being on and off the bike and having lots of problems, you need a consistent period of time to get yourself back to a decent level," Ellingworth said. "I think we all know with Mark that he's a bike racer and he's not particularly into the training, he loves racing and that's been a problem for him given the situation we've all been in.

"I think he was very upfront in saying that he wasn't ready for this year's Tour, and we'll keep working. He's at home now doing exactly that and looking forward to other races."

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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).