Team Sky will start the Giro d'Italia with Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa as equal team leaders and both attended the pre-race press conference on Friday afternoon, showing a united front as they prepare to begin three weeks of hard racing.
Both the Welshman and the Basque climber can each make legitimate claims to a place to the final podium in Milan. Neither has a Grand Tour victory on their palmares, but this year's Giro d'Italia is a key moment in their respective careers.
In the absence of team manager Dave Brailsford, lead directeur sportif Dario Cioni attended the press conference with his team leaders. He refused to award more leadership stripes to one or the other.
"They're both team captains, we've got two leaders and they start the race at the same level," Cioni said.
"We chose Geraint because he deserved a shot at a Grand Tour. Mikel has already been on the podium and can do better. We're lucky to have them and it will be a big advantage we can use in the final week."
No tension, no eye contact
Thomas and Landa sat side by side, taking turns to answer different questions from television and written media. There was little eye contact between the two but also no hint of tension. Any possible rivalry has still to emerge and if it does, will only do so late in the Giro d'Italia as they fight in the mountains for the best placing in the final general classification close to Milan.
History has demonstrated that having two team leaders for the Giro d'Italia can be a traumatic affair – this year is the 30th anniversary of Stephen Roche's rebellion against Roberto's Visentini at the 1987 Giro d'Italia. Team Sky has no doubt worked hard behind the scenes to avoid that kind of open warfare.
Thomas and Landa have been in Sardinia since Tuesday evening. They faced the final act of the team presentation on Thursday evening and then will finally pin on their race numbers – Landa is 171 and Thomas is 179 but this time, that is no sign of team leadership.
Thomas is looking to finally test his Grand Tour credentials but as ever, he is also keeping his feet on the ground and life and racing in perspective.
"It's obviously one of the biggest challenges of my career and we're only at the start, we've got a massive three weeks ahead. It's been pretty sweet so far, so let's hope it can continue. We've got a strong team looking forward to racing; it feels like we've been talking about it forever.
"To be honest the fact that it's the 100th has not registered too much with me.
"It won't be a step back whatever happens. It's going to be a good challenge and I'll make the most of it. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out.
"What happened to Scarponi and Chad Young has put things in perspective for me. I also lost my aunt last week and that makes me realise it's just a bike race. There a lot bigger things out in life. It's just great to get an opportunity. If I end up on the podium in a Grand Tour then fantastic. ... I'll get paid a bit more money. ... If I don't I'll maybe keep trying or stick to one-week races. At the end of the day, it's not the end of the world."
Thomas will turn 31 on May 25, during the final week of the Giro d'Italia. Yet he does not feel he is running out of time to win a Grand Tour.
"I've got two Olympic gold medals at home had a great career up to now, I've enjoyed it. Age is just a number and I feel I've got a lot of time ahead of me. Track years are not as hard as road years and so that helps my longevity. I'm happy to be here. What happens, happens."
Fluent, ambitious and on form
Mikel Landa spoke virtually no English when he joined Team Sky for the 2016 season. 18 months on, he's almost fluent and handles questions with ease. If his time trialing skills have improved as much, he will be a real threat at the Giro d'Italia.
"I've improved my time trialing a lot compared to 2015," Landa pointed out.
"We did a lot of work last year to improve my position. We've also added time trial training to my weekly schedules. I perhaps haven't improved a lot more this year but I feel more confident on the bike and think I'm more consistent."
Landa rode a strong time trial in the 2016 Giro d'Italia but then fell ill and quit the race on stage 10. He's enjoyed a solid winter after riding the Tour de France with Chris Froome in 2016 and has built his form gradually during the spring.
When Landa finished third overall at the 2015 Giro d'Italia, he often usurped his Astana team leader Fabio Aru. At the 2015 Vuelta a España, he even ignored team orders and attacked to win a mountain stage in Cortals d´Encamp.
Geraint Thomas may be Team Sky's homegrown talent but Landa is not afraid of staking his own claims to leadership. He does not think two leaders for the Giro d'Italia is one too many.
"It could be a problem but it might not," he said, teasingly. "When you've got a rider like Chris Froome for the Tour de France, you only need one leader. Here the other riders are the big favourites and so with two leaders you can make a better battle."
"It's important to have options in the race and I think the final week will reveal who is the strongest. It's important to ride united until then. We're two different riders, Geraint's the best in time trials and I'm perhaps better on the climbs.
Landa confirmed that the road would decide who is the strongest.
"We'll see stage by stage. We have to use the stages to make a gap," he said. "For sure want to do well. This new Giro is a new chapter of my career. I've got the opportunity to show how good I am and I'm going to use it."
Playing a waiting game
Team Sky has selected a strong team of climbers and support riders to back Thomas and Landa. There is no room for Italian sprinter Elia Viviani but Team Sky will not try to boss the peloton as it often does elsewhere. They intend to play a waiting game and let the big favourites Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali take responsibility for controlling the race.
"For sure we won't ride like at the Tour de France," Thomas said firing a tactical message to his rivals.
"Landa and I aren't the big favourites, Quintana and Nibali are. They've got the weight of the race on their shoulders and so have to take control of the race."
"I think Quintana and Nibali are the stand-out favourites. Then there's a lot of strength in depth in the field this year. There's the three Dutch guys: Mollema, Dumoulin and Kruijswijk. There's Pinot and other people I've forgotten. They're all good riders. Tejay [van Garderen] was looking good at the Tour de Romandie too. I think there's a lot of strength in depth. It'll be a tough old race."
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