Road

Mikel Landa: ‘I see myself on the podium of the Tour’

Basque rider sees leadership role at Bahrain-McLaren as lifetime opportunity, though threat of Froome's arrival could throw spanner in works.

After years of being forced into playing support man, Mikel Landa is heading toward this year’s Tour de France as the sole leader of his powerful new Bahrain-McLaren team with the podium a goal.

With the season due to resume in 10 weeks and a captaincy role at the Tour just three months away, the Basque is straining at the leash to get the ball rolling on his yellow jersey challenge with Bahrain-McLaren.

“There is so much desire to compete again that I forget the fear of what can happen with the virus,” Landa told El País.

Landa will lead a potent Bahrain-McLaren team in France this summer as the team enters a new chapter following a cash and technological injection from British motorsport business McLaren during the winter. Having never placed in the top three of the Tour de France, Landa feels this year may be his opportunity to do it.

“I see myself on the podium, why not,” he told AS Wednesday. “We will fight for it. People like Pello Bilbao, Cortina, Caruso, Poels, Teuns will be good companions.”

Landa called being a part of the new turbocharged Bahraini team “an opportunity of my life,” when describing a visit to the hi-tech McLaren headquarters. And for one of the first times in his life, Landa knows he is in the driving seat at the head of the team he starts with in France.

After riding in support of Fabio Aru in the Giro d’Italia for Astana in 2015, backing up Chris Froome at the Tour in 2017, and playing his part in a series of leadership squabbles and malfunctions with Movistar in the past two years, the 30-year-old is finally where he wants to be at the top of a team, saying that he “never ran with the idea of reaching this one day.”

One threat does hang over Landa’s status as leader of the team however. Recent reports suggest former teammate Froome may be looking to leave Team Ineos, and Bahrain-McLaren is on the shortlist of candidates that may pitch for his signature. If Froome were to find himself in the Bahrain-McLaren colors, Landa may again be playing domestique de luxe.

For the moment, the four-time Tour winner’s future is unclear, and Landa is thinking more of the collective power of Team Ineos rather than the moves of its individuals, citing Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas as hot favorites in this summer’s Grande Boucle.

“Rod Ellingworth told me that those interests of the team [regarding Froome] were not certain and it is appreciated that they come out and convey confidence to you,” Landa told AS. “I don’t know what happens inside Ineos, but I have no doubt that they will continue to be the team to beat.”

Landa played a key role in Froome’s 2017 Tour victory, leaving him to have to settle for fourth. Photo: Tim De Waele / Getty Images

Landa remained diplomatic when asked about being demoted to Plan-B so many times in his career. Earlier this week, former teammate Richard Carapaz talked of the tensions in the Movistar bus at last year’s Giro, and Nairo Quintana has expressed frustration at his former team’s ‘trident‘ approach to leadership.

“There are so many people so good and so close to winning, and the differences are so minimal that any gesture of help between teammates from one day to another day can make a difference,” Landa said. “Each experience has given me something and has brought me to what I am today”

Despite coming oh-so-close to grand tour podiums on three occasions but always missing out due to team duties during his two-year tenure with Movistar, Landa reflected only positively on his time with the Spanish team.

“My experience at Movistar has been very positive,” Landa said. “Despite everything it may have seemed, I am very grateful to my two years there, to the way they work, to the people I have met, colleagues and directors, who are the best I have seen in my career. From the beginning, I knew where I was going. Nairo and Alejandro were already there when I went, and I can’t get mad about that.”

“Now, look, I have a new opportunity, with no other leader at my side to take responsibility down, and we will see what comes of it.”

After the Tour, Landa is uncertain of his race schedule, with a run at home race the Vuelta a España a possibility. For now however, his focus in on the podium in Paris this September — though he will be casting a sideways glance toward reports on Froome’s future.