Welcome to a new feature which allows you, the reader, to contribute to debates on the most controversial and exciting topics in the pro cycling world. Each week, you’ll find the topic up for discussion on the Freewheeling Twitter page – so add @FreewheelingBlog if you want to join in! If you have any suggestions for discussion topics please feel free to write in, there’s always something getting pro cycling fans hot under the helmet, there’ll be plenty to talk about!
First up, We Need to Talk About...Mikel Landa
Who? Mikel Landa, Spanish rider currently signed for Team Sky. Landa is a talented climber from the Basque Country, who announced himself as a rider to watch whilst riding in support of Fabio Aru at Astana during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Notable Achievements? Landa had a successful 2014, winning a stage at the Giro de Trentino and providing support to Fabio Aru at the Giro d’Italia.
It was his compelling ride at the 2015 Giro d’Italia that really put his name on the map however. Landa’s job for Astana at the Giro was to ride as a domestique for team leader Fabio Aru. Aru showed patchy form throughout the race, yet his Spanish domestique was putting on a strong display, and found himself at the sharp end of the General Classification. Landa was the beneficiary of a controversial commisaires’ decision when Richie Porte was given a time penalty for accepting a wheel change from fellow Aussie rider Simon Clarke. Unfortunately, the comradely gesture damaged Porte’s GC chances as Clarke, whilst coming from the same country as Richie, was not from the same team, making the wheel change an illegal race move. Landa was promoted to third on GC as a result of Porte’s time penalty.
Although Aru finished the race ahead of Landa as second on GC, Landa was also on the podium in third. Landa had, on occasion, shown himself to be stronger than his team leader, notably on the Madonna di Campiglio climb, where he finished the stage 6 seconds ahead of Aru. Landa took two stage wins in the 2015 Giro, and moved ahead of Aru in GC by the end of stage 18, although this situation had been reversed by the end of the race. Some of the set piece battles had been between the two Spaniards Contador and Landa, and there was a feeling that the race would have been even more compelling if Landa hadn’t been ostensibly riding for Fabio Aru.
Why do we need to talk about Mikel Landa? As we saw with the 2015 Giro, the role of domestique can be a difficult one if you find yourself in an unofficial competition with your own team leader for a position in the General Classification. This year, now riding for Team Sky, Landa found himself in the eye of the storm when he rode away from Chris Froome on stage 12 of the Tour de France. Accused of ‘not looking back to find Froome’, Landa pressed ahead during the final 200 metres of the stage to Peyragudes, keeping his foot on the gas whilst Froome slowly deflated behind him, losing both time and the yellow jersey in the process.
Upon returning to the team bus, directeur sportif Nicholas Portal was seen angrily speaking with Landa in full view of the awaiting media, the facial expressions and gesticulations leaving the viewer in no doubt as to the nature of the confrontation. Landa’s words to the press following stage 12 didn’t do much to smooth the situation. “The stage victory was being played out, it didn’t occur to me to look back” being one of many pointed comments about the race situation and Sky’s curtailing of his hopes and clipping of his wings.
Landa finished the Tour in 4th place, just 1 second off the podium – something he blamed on the tactics employed by the team. Although Landa has taken great care to point out that he has no hard feelings towards the eventual winner Chris Froome, he did speak to the Spanish press where he made his feelings about Team Sky plain. Claiming that he was never allowed to reach his full potential during the 2017 Tour, particularly on the Izoard stage, Landa spoke of his promising attack as the race leaders neared the summit – which ultimately came to nothing. “Froome was telling me to go slower, slower, slower. ..I was very angry that day because I sacrificed myself without making any gains for the team”.
Standing on the podium in Paris with his Sky colleagues as winners of the team competition, Landa cut a desolate figure, unable to raise a smile with his feelings etched into a frustrated and pained facial expression. “I don’t want to be in this situation again, it’s so frustrating!”. Landa is rumoured to be transferring to the Movistar team next season, where it is said that he will lead the team at the Giro, a race which seems to be well suited to his riding style, with Quintana targetting the Tour. This should negate any problems with leadership questions. Chris Boardman summed up the Landa-Froome situation in one pertinent sentence – “That’s what happens when you make a team out of team leaders”.
Here’s what Freewheeling’s Twitter followers had to say about Landa venting his feelings after the race to the Spanish press…..