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Landa on riding for Sky: ‘It’s something special’

MILAN (VN) — Mikel Landa spent 2015 working for Astana’s Fabio Aru. But in 2016, his new team, Sky, is giving him the space to win the Giro d’Italia in May.

Aru appeared at his breaking point several times during the 2015 Giro. Instead of switching leaders, perhaps on the Mortirolo climb, Astana ordered a stronger looking Landa to wait. It gave Aru his second place behind eventual winner Alberto Contador of Tinkoff, but it cost Landa his chance to win the pink jersey. Landa eventually placed third overall in Milan.

It was the same situation in the Vuelta a España, where Landa was in the company of eventual winner Aru and the team’s star Vincenzo Nibali. Landa needed space for 2016.

“Astana had two leaders, also Jakob Fuglsang for the other races, so I didn’t have too much space there,” Landa said at Sky’s press day in Majorca.

“Sky made a place for me and that’s why I’m here. I’m working for the Giro d’Italia now, and the team is doing everything it can to help me for that goal.”

The 2015 Giro gave fans what could have been Alberto Contador’s last win. It showed how one rider, Aru, could resurrect his seemingly broken Giro. It also unearthed a steadily improving 26-year-old Basque talent.

Though Landa did have to squeeze his brake levers to wait for the home favorite and his team leader, he did conquer and win the Madonna di Campiglio and Aprica stage. The victories caught the eye of David Brailsford, manager of Team Sky.

Landa gave Brailsford the perfect opportunity. The Welsh team boss said over the winter that “2016 must be our most successful year ever,” and “I don’t see why we can’t go for all three Grand Tours.” Brailsford tried to build a Giro team around Richie Porte in the last two years, but could not win as Sky did in the Tour. With Porte making plans to join BMC Racing, Brailsford reached out to Landa.

Contract information is kept secret, but Landa is reportedly pulling in the equivalent of $1.1 million a year. In return, he will want to give Sky a performance similar or better than 2015 at the Giro. Sky is investing as much as possible to make it happen.

One concern is Landa’s time trial. In the Valdobbiadene time trial through the Prosecco hills at last years Giro, he lost four minutes to Contador. In the Vuelta’s big time trial to Burgos, he lost nearly five minutes to Tom Dumoulin of Giant – Alpecin.

“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,” said Landa, who rode for Basque team Euskaltel – Euskadi before Astana.

“Even Brailsford, he’s here with us every day, I’ve never seen that in other teams where the manager does all the training camp with the riders. That’s nice because you can speak with him and he can help you.

“Getting better in the time trial is another goal. 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. I need to get racing to see my results, but I think I feel more comfortable, so at the moment it’s enough.”

Landa will have the British super team’s support but also American muscle. Oregon native Ian Boswell is set to ride the Giro, his second grand tour after last year’s Vuelta a España, if all goes according to plan. He could also count on climbers Sergio Henao and Leopold König, strongmen Vasil Kiryienka and Christian Knees, and sprinter Elia Viviani – some of the same cyclists who helped Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome to their Tour de France wins.