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SONDALO, Italy (VN) — For as close as he was to victory in Tuesday’s epic Giro d’Italia stage 16 across the Stelvio, Sky’s Mikel Landa was reflective at the finish line.
That came nearly an hour after he had a chance to cool down after getting pipped at the line by Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali.
“This was a stage I had circled,” Landa said. “It’s a shame to lose the stage by just a few centimeters after such a hard effort.”
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Tuesday’s 222-kilometer “queen stage” across the mythical climbs at Mortirolo and the Stelvio was meant to be Landa’s act of redemption. Signed by Sky with much fanfare in 2016, the Basque climber failed to meet expectations in his first season. Coming into this year’s Giro, he was looking like the Landa who won two stages and finished third in the 2015 Giro. He crashed hard in stage 9, however, the same day Sky co-captain Geraint Thomas also hit the deck.
Both lost time and all hope of the GC. Unlike Thomas, who abandoned last week, Landa stubbornly remained in the Giro with the hopes of taking something out of the race that helped him make his name just two years ago.
Stage 16 drama
His chance came Tuesday with a brutal three-climb stage that included nearly 5,000 vertical meters in the most dramatic setting possible. Sky put three riders into the day’s main breakaway over the Mortirolo.
“Team Sky did a great job today. We had Kiryienka and Deignan riding their skins off to help me,” Landa said. “I made it over the Stelvio, but when I saw the riders near me on the last switchbacks, I thought that they were going to catch me.”
The only one who did so was Nibali, who took big risks on the descent to reel in Landa and distance arch-rivals Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and overnight race leader Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). If Landa thought Nibali was riding to only take gains in the GC, he was quickly proven wrong.
Landa had positioning coming into the twisting final 500 meters of the stage, a succession of quick lefts and rights. The Spaniard had the pole position in the final left-hander, but Nibali came inside him with 50m to go and nabbed the victory. Landa pounded his fist on his handlebars as Nibali raised his arms in victory.
The 27-year-old Landa woke up Wednesday to see a headline in La Gazzetta dello Sport — “Niballisimo,” heralding Nibali’s great coup. That win came at Landa’s expense.
“We will try again Thursday,” he said. “I came to this Giro to race the GC, but things didn’t work out. Now I have the mountain jersey. We’ll see if I can defend it until Milan.”
Nothing short of a stage win will sooth Landa’s disappointments. And the best way to win the climber’s jersey would be to attack over the Dolomites to victory.