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Landa sees chance of lifetime in move to Bahrain-McLaren

The Spanish star has been knocking on the door of grand tour success for years and he's optimistic he will see more support in his latest move.

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Mikel Landa is hoping a change of colors will put him back on the winning track for 2020.

The wandering Spanish star joins his fourth team since his breakout 2015 season with his move to Bahrain-McLaren. The past two seasons at Movistar saw him reveal glimpses of brilliance but he was largely unable to translate that into consistent results. In two years with the Spanish WorldTour team, Landa won only two races.

Speaking to the Spanish daily El Mundo, Landa didn’t make any excuses, but admitted he couldn’t find his space at Movistar. The team often raced with multiple leaders, and Landa was frequently pinched out.

“I was a bit overwhelmed at Movistar,” he told El Mundo. “It wasn’t my style of racing and I had to leave — nothing more.”

Movistar’s three-pronged attack with Landa, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana never quite delivered on its promise. While other teams, such as Ineos and Jumbo-Visma, have been able to balance multiple captains, Movistar often saw its riders racing for individual results. Movistar delivered victory last May at the Giro d’Italia with Richard Carapaz, with Landa once again looking strong but blocked internally by team strategy.

“I had great teammates at Movistar, the problem was that they were not always just for me,” he said. “There was Quintana and Valverde, and to be there with all three is complicated. To take advantage of every leader is complicated and you didn’t always see the support you needed.”

Valverde, Landa, Quintana
Movistar’s trio of leaders rarely combined as effectively as the three-pronged attacks of teams such as Ineos. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Landa, 30 this month, is hoping his move to Bahrain-Merida will see him racing at maximum capacity, without health issues or crashes, and the full support of the team. The exit of Vincenzo Nibali to Trek-Segafredo opens up space at the top of the team hierarchy. The arrival of Wout Poels, a former Sky teammate, and Pello Bilbao (Astana) does not worry Landa.

The arrival of new general manager Rod Ellingworth, formerly of Sky/Ineos, is also giving Landa a sense of new opportunities.

“I’m not worried. I see the team is ready to support me, and that gives some confidence,” he said. “The team is starting to grow and they’re introducing a structure of ‘rider’s first,’ and everyone is working in the same direction. I see this as a big opportunity for me.”

Landa has consistently been knocking on the door of grand tour success. After hitting third at the 2015 Giro, many tapped him as Spain’s next big thing in grand tour racing. In two years at Sky, he was largely relegated to a helper role behind Chris Froome, though he missed hitting the podium at the 2017 Tour by just one second. Some have been underwhelmed by his subsequent performances — seventh in 2018 and sixth in 2019 at the Tour and fourth in the 2019 Giro — but others, including Ellingworth, believe Landa still has the potential to win a grand tour.

“I’m convinced that I can be racing the Tour to win,” he said. “I’ve been close to the best the past few years, and every year, I feel that I am closer. Not counting Froome, who has dominated, and [Geraint] Thomas or [Egan] Bernal, no one else has won the Tour. So I see myself at that same level.”

Time trialing is Landa’s major handicap, but he hopes to improve with more work in the McLaren wind-tunnel facilities. Landa takes more confidence out of the hilly routes unveiled for all the major grand tours in 2020. Right now, the Tour de France appears to be at the center of his ambitions.

“A rider like Thomas never finished in the top-10 in the Tour, and he won it, so that gives you hope,” Landa said. “I’ve raced with a lot of big captains. Froome was very calculating, and knew every detail to take advantage. Nibali is an artist, at any moment, he can turn a race upside and come out the winner. I see myself more like Nibali, because that’s the way I like to race, more passionate.”

Landa also has the world championships and Olympic Games on his radar, but first things first. He wants to prove his worth to his new team with some early season results to gain their confidence. If he does that, he might finally have a team working for him.