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The Giro's long time trial may give Mikel Landa...

Landa, the newest grand tour leader

As a grand tour leader, Mikel Landa is an unknown quantity, but rivals fear his climbing talents and his formidable Sky team.

APELDOORN, The Netherlands (VN) — Of all the Giro d’Italia favorites, Mikel Landa has never before led a team in pursuit of a grand tour win. Over the next three weeks, from the race’s Dutch start Friday to Turin on May 29, he will be on trial. Landa says he is hungry for the win.

He won the warm-up tour, the Giro del Trentino two weeks ago and placed third last year, riding in support of Astana teammate Fabio Aru. This time, the 26-year-old has British super-team Sky backing him in his quest to become a bonafide grand tour star.

“Last year, I said I was hungry before the Giro,” Landa said to listening journalists in Apeldoorn. “I’m good one year on. I had a good opportunity to lead a great team like Sky in the Giro del Trentino, and I won. I had good results. I’m hungry again this time around.”

The Basque was a bit of an unknown both this year and last. No one really expected him to light up the Giro as he did in 2015. At several times, like on the steep Mortirolo, south of the Bormio ski village, he looked ready to leave his leader Aru behind and upset grand tour great Contador.

“He was always seen as a talent,” Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews at the time. “He was a good rider, but this year … He surprised everyone, even us. He began the season slowly, and then caught us all off-guard. Now it’s all possible.”

Sky quickly snapped him up in search of a Giro team leader after two attempts by Richie Porte failed to bring it the famous spiral trophy. All hopes for the Giro, however, appeared lost when Landa fell sick at the start of the season and delayed his debut. Landa, as quick as a mountain attack, turned around opinions.

He won a day in the País Vasco stage race and then, with the help of American Ian Boswell, the overall in the Giro del Trentino.

“I started racing later in the season, so I think I’ll still have plenty of form for the third week’s mountains,” Landa explained.

“What’s different this year? New riders. I had a chance to get to know them, to help decide the Giro team, but the rest is the same: making sure I am in form for the appointment.”

Landa’s Achilles’ heel could be the 40.5-kilometer time trial in Chianti midway in the race. He lost four minutes to Contador in the long time trial last year. However, Sky will have given him the same secrets that helped Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome win in an effort to improve the Spaniard’s chances.

“He entered into the picture last year and became a player for the GC. He became one of the main adversaries,” Nibali explained in a press conference after Landa’s.

“The time trial is in my favor, clearly. I’ve been better than him in the time trials, and it’s been a weak point for him. I’m not only racing against Landa, also against Alejandro Valverde, Tom Dumoulin, and the others.”

Landa is so secure of his climbing, though, that he feels that he can make up for any loss in the high Alpine passes of the third week. And that worries Nibali’s Astana camp. “He’s races strongly in the climbs and improved so much, we saw that in Trentino,” teammate Michele Scarponi explained. “We fear him in the mountains.”