In a Giro d’Italia that has delivered little more than pain and/or disappointment for several of the most fancied pre-race chances including Porte, Uran and Pozzivivo – and confirmed Alberto Contador’s status as a rider who’s as tough as he is talented – one undoubted shining light has been Astana’s 25-year old Spaniard, Mikel Landa.
Currently sitting in 2nd on overall GC, 50 seconds ahead of his team leader Fabio Aru, and with two stage wins already under his belt, the performance of the former Euskaltel-Esuaki man who made his debut with the Orbea Continetal squad in 2009 has been something of a revelation. His name featured in few pre-race podium predictions, but not dissimilar to Chris Froome’s upstaging of Bradley Wiggins in the 2011 Vuelta a España, he’s continued to eclipse his more fancied team-mate, Aru.
Somewhat inevitably given the deep and ongoing suspicions engulfing the team he currently rides for – and may well be leaving at season’s end – there has been the odd eyebrow raised. Guilt by association can be a powerful force. For this we feel a little sorry for the Spaniard.
Whether in turquoise or orange, Landa is clearly no mug on the bike. True, prior to this year’s Giro his best finishes in a Grand Tour were a modest 28th at the 2014 Vuelta as well as 34th in last year’s Giro won by Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. But it’s worth noting as an amateur Landa finished 5th at the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir, also won by Quintana ahead of another rising star of the peloton, American Andrew Talansky. Further digging shows he also won a stage of last year’s Giro del Trentino, not to mention Stage 5 of this year’s Tour of the Basque Country. In other words, he hasn’t come from nowhere. His form and results have been building, slowly but steadily, for several seasons.
As with most riders time will ultimately tell, of course. But with the mighty Spanish Armada of Contador (32), Rodriguez (36), Valverde (35) and Sanchez (37) not getting any younger we’re certainly enjoying the rise of a fresh new face on the GC scene who, should his current trajectory continue, may well find himself standing on the top step of the overall podium in the not-too-distant future.