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Landa unfazed at riding shotgun again

Mikel Landa says he's committed to helping Richard Carapaz win this Giro. But he won't be passing up opportunity to gain time either

ANTERSELVA, Italy (VN) — Having previously played second fiddle to Fabio Aru and Chris Froome, Mikel Landa is now riding for Movistar teammate Richard Carapaz over his own chance to win.

Landa attacked his way back up the general classification in the second half of this Giro d’Italia, with time gains on the stages to Pinerolo, Lago Serrù and Wednesday to Anterselva. However, Carapaz’s time gains on stage 14 to Courmayeur put him in charge as Movistar as the Spanish team marches towards Verona.

“I don’t know,” Landa replied to VeloNews when asked when he will have his chance to win a grand tour. “I will try every year and I think [one day] my opportunity will come.”

Landa’s ride helping Fabio Aru take on Alberto Contador in the 2015 Giro d’Italia saw him place third overall. He then signed for Team Sky for two years.

Some hypothesized that he was the better leader for Sky at the 2017 Tour de France after Froome appeared to be sub-par for a few days. But Froome went on to win, and Landa placed fourth overall, just one second from third place.

Now, his last year with Movistar, he sits in a similar situation. Carapaz has led the race since the Courmayeur finish, which he won. After stage 17, Landa is fourth overall at 3:03, just 47 seconds from third place Primoz Roglic.

But so long as Carapaz is in control, Landa must sit shotgun. Only two mountain stages and a time trial remain to decide the 2019 Giro d’Italia.

“I’m happy. We have the maglia rosa in the team,” said the 29-year-old Basque. “It’s true that I’m feeling better and better since the Giro began two weeks ago, so I can be happier [than I was].

“I lost time in the first weeks but now I’m close to the podium. I will fight to be there and also to keep the jersey in the team.”

Landa may well be flying up the road again in the remaining mountain stages to San Martino di Castrozzo and Monte Avena. Doing so could gain him time and take the pressure off Carapaz -the first Ecuadorian to wear the pink jersey- by forcing rivals to chase.

On Wednesday, Landa put that to the test. He flew free in the closing kilometres going up to the Anterselva ski station and gained 19 seconds. Once his rivals were weakened, Carapaz attacked too and took seven seconds.

“I saw an opportunity,” Landa said after the stage. “More time is always welcome. Friday and, even more so, Saturday will be very hard mountain stages. Anything can happen, but right now we are very united and very concentrated.

“If you’re ahead, it’s always better. We are two, right, and few teams have this numerical advantage. So when you have someone up ahead, you take advantage of the work of the others.”

At Movistar’s blue bus, team boss Eusebio Unzué elaborated.

“We can use Landa, to send him up the road to put pressure on the other teams to chase,” said Unzué. “That will allow us to not [have] to control the race every day.

“Landa is a guarantee for us in this GC battle in case something happens with Carapaz.”

But, differing slightly from Landa’s take, he added: “We aren’t thinking about two Movistar riders on the podium in Verona, we are thinking just about the win.”

Carapaz placed fourth in the 2018 Giro d’Italia behind Froome and 18th in the 2018 Vuelta a España. He underlined winning the pink jersey is the goal, either with himself or Landa

“The team had two cards in this Giro, one of them was me, and Mikel is the first option,” Carapaz explained. “He has had a big career and an impressive palmarès, I really admire him. We get along well, we are more than teammates, we are friends.

“We are now defending the maglia rosa as a team, and that’s the objective.”