Perhaps more than anyone leaving Paris this week, Mikel Landa will be wondering what might have been.
The 27-year-old Basque rider enjoyed a breakout Tour de France. He loyally fulfilled his role at Team Sky as Chris Froome’s key helper in the mountains.
Yet there is more than a tinge of regret for Landa. He came within less than one second of finishing on the podium in Paris.
Speaking to Spanish journalist Jesus Gómez Peña, Landa lamented what could have been while at the same time acknowledging he had a job to do.
“I am fourth in the Tour de France, and I don’t feel anything special at all,” Landa said. “I feel empty.”
Landa was perhaps the strongest climber in this Tour de France. Team Sky deployed him perfectly to help carry Froome to a fourth yellow jersey. And Landa kept his part of the deal, staying close to Froome and following team orders.
“In the second week, I had legs to drop everyone,” he said. “But everything unfolded like it did, and that’s how it will always be.”
Landa emerged as one of the top protagonists during this Tour. After the 2015 Giro d’Italia, where he was third overall with two stage wins, Landa went to Team Sky. He’d hoped to lead at the Italian grand tour. In 2016, illness disrupted his racing program. This year, a crash on the stage to Blockhaus derailed his GC ambitions. Still, he bounced back to win the best climber’s jersey and a mountain stage.
The Tour was almost an afterthought. Landa had no ambitions other than to help Froome. That started to change as he rode into form.
“It took me a few days to get my legs into the race, but I was OK because I knew I would be a key piece in the tactical game of the team,” he said. “On the Izoard, I attacked to force Urán and Bardet to come with me, and Froome could come over the top. … I never did anything to put Froome’s leadership in danger. I know that I came to do a job. I cannot complain.”
During the Tour, he knew he would be on a leash. Twice during the race, Landa was called back. First, on the stage to Rousses in the Jura, Landa snuck into a break, but the team told him to sit up. And when Froome suffered a mechanical in stage 15, Landa also waited and helped tow Froome back to the front at a critical moment.
An even more telling moment came on the road to Foix in stage 13. Team Sky started to pull after Landa rode into a promising four-man breakaway that included GC dangerman Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Landa might have gotten yellow that day had Sky not pulled so hard to prevent Quintana from riding back into the GC frame.
Landa deserves credit for not succumbing to temptation and attacking for his own interests. Yet he admits missing out on the podium by one second will sting for quite some time.
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“I didn’t give everything I had. Maybe in a month or so, it will seem incredible, but right now, I don’t feel so good,” he said. “When you start to think about where you could have taken back a second … ufff, que rabia!”
Landa’s loyalty might have a short shelf life. He already has one foot out Sky’s door. He is expected to land at Movistar or another major team where he will be given more room to race for his own interests.
“Now I know I can be in the fight for the Tour GC in the future,” he said. “I don’t want to miss any opportunities in the future … This Tour is a crossroads for me. I cannot let this situation repeat itself. It’s my fault that I did not demand to be a leader. I will not return to a grand tour without leadership responsibilities.”