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Mikel Landa's sky high ambitions cause crossroads

Joe Robinson
26 Jul 2017

Fourth at the Tour de France is not enough for this Basque rider who is searching for glory

Throughout this year's Tour de France, it was clear to see that the strongest rider in the race wore the colours of Team Sky. However, this rider was not in yellow on the Champs-Élysées last Sunday. The longer the race wore on, it became clear that Mikel Landa was the force within Team Sky rather than Chris Froome.  

Despite this rich vein of form, Landa stuck to the script, proving to be an indispensible domestique for Froome, who eventually took his fourth Tour victory. Whilst Froome and the team celebrate a fifth tour success within six years, it has become obvious that the 27-year-old Landa has harboured some lofty ambitions of his own. 

For many, placing fourth at the Tour de France would be a trumph. Even more so if you rode the complete race in service of a team-mate, who eventually won. Yet for Landa, it is plainly apparent that dissapointment is the only feeling he will remember from this year's race. 

In conversation with Spanish journalist Jesus Gomez Pena, the Basque rider revealed his regrets on not fullfiling his potential at the Tour.

'I finished fourth on the Tour and did not notice anything special. I find myself empty,' Landa said 'I have not given one hundred percent' 

Once the race hit the mountains, it was clear to see who the best climber was going to be. An ever present as the race rose to the highest peaks, Landa would often be the only surviving domestique in a group full of general classification protaganists. Setting a pace so relentless, it often seemed as if an assault on Froome's yellow jersey was impossible. 

Given the chance, Landa even found himself up the road on stage 13 in to Foix. Stealing almost two minutes from the GC contendors, it was only the work of his own team that prevented him wearing yellow. Landa realised this but also respected he was at the Tour to complete a job. 

'I do not want to analyze it hot, because maybe I'm wrong, but if I'm a cyclist to with this Tour, I could have gotten more out of it,' adding 'What I've never done is to jeopardize Chris (Froome) taking the Tour.'

The situation Team Sky finds itself in now presents certain irony. When Sir Bradley Wiggins won his first and only Tour in 2012, many saw the then super-domestique Chris Froome as the strongest rider in the race. When Landa dropped Froome on the summit finish to Peyragudes, it began to mirror Froome's attack on Wiggins in La Toussuire.

Keeping these talented riders disciplined can prove quite the challenge, and it is commendable that Landa did not go rogue on the route to Paris. Yet whilst other key Sky domestiques such as Michal Kwiatkowski and Geraint Thomas are sweetened with opportunites at the Spring Classics and Giro d'Italia respectively, Landa has realised his potential as a Tour winner.

On their joint breakaway to Foix, Landa attributes compatriot Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) for his new-found ambitions.

'Contador has opened my eyes on this Tour. You realise that the opportunities and the years pass.' 

Then when asked if he would not ride the Tour as domestique again, he added 'Yes, completely. The tour is a turning point. I cannot make this mistake again. Surely, it is my fault for not demanding to be a leader.' 

These strong words almost confirm the circling rumours of Landa's departure at the end of the season. Movistar seem to be best placed to take on the 27-year-old, and with further rumours suggesting Nairo Quintana's departure, it seems this deal could be best fit.

Regardless of these rumours, it is clear that Mikel Landa will become one of Chris Froome's closest competitors in his pursuit of a fifth Tour de France.