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Mikel Landa: Doubts are gone now

Mikel Landa will start the Giro d'Italia in less than two weeks as one of the favorites to pull on the race winner's pink jersey.

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MILAN (VN) — Basque climber Mikel Landa has gone from an uncertainty to a Giro d’Italia favorite in a short amount of time. After skipping races two months ago he is now racking up victories, including the Giro del Trentino last week.

Sky’s ace starts the 2016 Giro d’Italia next Friday in the Netherlands as a probable victor. Only 2013 winner Vincenzo Nibali, who also won the 2010 Vuelta a Espana and the 2014 Tour de France, has better odds. Astana’s Nibali is going off at 150 to win, according to Landa is at 250 and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde is at 450.

“I’m pleased with this win, it’s a big one that gives me motivation ahead of the Giro d’Italia,” Landa told Tutto Bici last Friday after the Giro del Trentino.

The British super team signed Landa over the winter after he raced with Astana for two years. Last year he placed third in the Giro d’Italia.

Landa replaced Richie Porte on the Sky roster, who joined BMC Racing. Landa is Sky’s main GC rider for the “Corsa Rosa,” scheduled for May 6-29.

Far from the Italian Alps in Spain, Landa did not appear on track earlier this season. He was due to start in Sky’s black colors in the Volta a Valenciana on February 3, but that debut was postponed to the Ruta del Sol on February 17. He needed more time on his time trial bike, he said, but then he fell sick and missed that race. The cold forced him to skip Italy’s Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, too.

Landa bounced back well. He returned in the Coppi e Bartali stage race, and later won a stage in the Tour of the Basque Country — his home race — ahead of Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL – Jumbo), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). Following his overall win in the Giro del Trentino, Landa’s odds of winning the Giro’s pink jersey are good.

As always, the high passes through the Italian Alps from the country’s eastern border with Austria to the west along the French border mark the race route. “But there are time trials too,” Nibali’s trainer Paolo Slongo told VeloNews. “Landa has problems with time trialing.”

Landa lost four minutes to eventual winner Contador in the long time trial through the Prosecco hills last year, but he rebounded with two stage wins and placed third at 3:05 back.

“They call me a Giro favorite? Let’s see,” Landa said. “The Giro is three weeks long and already in Holland, the race starts with a flat and windy time trial.”

Landa found the best team to improve in time trialing. Bradley Wiggins called Sky his home for five years and he won the 2012 Tour de France thanks to his strength in the individual events. Landa works directly with sport director Dario Cioni, but also pulls on the knowledge of trainers Tim Kerrison and Rod Ellingworth.

“It’s something special here, I’ve never seen this in another team. Also the little details, a lot of the small things that can make us better. Everyone is looking for marginal gains,” Landa said in January.

“We started working hard in December, finding my position on the track. Now we are training once or twice a week on the time trial bike and focused on losing as little time as possible. I’m feeling more comfortable, I feel fast.”

Landa lost 2 minutes in the Basque Country time trial in early April, but he could record better times in the Giro with improving form. The mountains remain the Spaniard’s focus. These days, he trains on the passes in the Friuli, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Veneto regions. After a brief stop home in Spain, he’ll head to the Giro start in Apeldoorn, Netherlands next Tuesday.

“I had some doubts at the start of the season, but those are gone now,” Landa told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I expected more of a fight from Nibali [last] week, but in two weeks, it’ll be different. When he prepares for something, he never makes a mistake.”