After seven years, Mikel Landa is finally back on a Grand Tour podium
'Landismo' is back where he belongs.
'Landismo' is back where he belongs.
Mikel Landa finished the 2022 Giro d’Italia comfortably in third place overall, marking his first visit to a Grand Tour podium in seven years.
Landa, or ‘Landismo’ to his enthusiastic fans, has rightly or wrongly become known for running hot and cold, but throughout his career, he’s netted a pretty solid string of GC results in the world’s biggest races.
His first and only other Grand Tour podium finish was at the 2015 Giro, and since then he’s landed in the top 10 five times: fourth, seventh, sixth and fourth at four consecutive Tours de France from 2017-2020; and another fourth at the 2019 Giro. In fact, he’s not finished outside the top 10 of all the Grand Tours he’s finished since the 2017 Tour de France (he crashed out of the 2021 Giro and abandoned near the end of the same year’s Vuelta).
So what, if anything, has changed?
It’ll surprise no one given our subject that the answer is: team support. (And good legs, probably.)
Look a little closer at his last visit to the Giro podium, and you’ll find his Astana teammate Fabio Aru on the second step. Both riders won themselves back-to-back stages, and Landa got to it first, propelling himself into second overall behind Alberto Contador on stage 16, at the same time knocking his Italian teammate down a peg.
Landa stayed in second overall until stage 19 when, you guessed it, Aru won his first of two summit finishes in the white jersey. Astana was the best-performing team at the race with five stage wins in all, including Paolo Tiralongo’s win from the breakaway on stage 9, but there was disquiet in the Landa camp.
That performance saw Landa’s stock rise significantly, and he sought pastures new hoping for more opportunities. However, he was about to embark on four turbulent years on two different teams, which yielded mixed results and a bitter dose of disappointment for the Basque climber.
Two seasons of support riding at Team Sky gave way to the trident years at Movistar, and every step of the way, Landa was mired in team-leader disputes and in-fighting.
Landa finally found his forever home (maybe) when he moved to Bahrain-McLaren in 2020. Finally de facto leader (about as ‘de facto’ as you can be in the modern era) of a Grand Tour squad, he climbed to fourth at the Tour de France, his best result in three years.
He’s had rotten luck since then – see above 2021 results – and Jack Haig’s arrival may have made the foundation of his leadership quake slightly, but 2022 has welcomed a revitalised Landismo.
He lost time in the Giro’s stage 2 time trial and the rip-roaring stage 14, but he’d excelled almost everywhere else. His Bahrain Victorious team was one of the strongest of the race – they won the team classification – and as the race went on it was clear that Landa was one of the three apparently evenly matched contenders for the maglia rosa.
By stage 20, the final podium was all but untouchable, and it was here that Landa was unable to follow Jai Hindley and Richard Carapaz for pretty much the first time.
“I wasn’t in a good place all day and I couldn’t follow the team,” Landa admitted after stage 20. “It was a very hard stage, there was a tailwind, so it was a very fast stage and fast on the climbs. Then the last part was just agony.”
But the 32-year-old did not give up. After being dropped at around 5 km to go when Hindley attacked, Landa eventually found his rhythm and finished two places ahead of overnight race leader Carapaz.
“Fortunately as we climbed, I could stabilise things and saw Richie [Carapaz] wasn’t in a good place. The longer the climb went on, the better I felt.”
He’d narrowed his gap to Carapaz to just 26 seconds, and fourth-place Vincenzo Nibali was 6:06 behind him, giving Landa a generous buffer for the final time trial.
Last time Landa was in Verona was for stage 21 in 2019, a TT on more or less the same course as today’s, and like this year, he started the day in third overall. However, back then he led Primož Roglič by just 23 seconds, and the Slovenian was able to topple Landa by eight seconds. Eight tiny, insignificant seconds between Landismo and a second rose-tinted podium ceremony.
In 2022, he’s back. Only this time, he made it.