Bahrain-Victorious reconfigures as Mikel Landa crumbles at Vuelta a España

Jack Haig, Damiano Caruso spearhead "Plan B" as Landa slides out of GC contention in Vuelta's mountaintop showdown.

Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

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Mikel Landa has plummeted out of range, but the Vuelta a España isn’t over for Bahrain-Victorious.

Landa lost the wheels and hemorrhaged five minutes on the Velefique showdown Sunday, but his team’s all-star midfield of Damiano Caruso, Jack Haig, and Gino Mäder moved up en masse.

The Sicilian veteran Caruso stole the show on stage 9 of the Vuelta with a long-range raid that repeated his heroics from the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. Haig held the wheels amid a flurry of attacks and rose to fourth on GC, while Mäder rolled home in the next group on the road to bump up to 12th overall.

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With pre-race leader Landa sliding out of GC contention, and Haig on the upward haul, Bahrain-Victorious has pivoted on its heel.

“It’s great to see Damiano win today, but also hard to see Mikel suffering today,” said sport director Gorazd Štangelj. “From this morning Mikel was not feeling the best. So we decided already that a few of the guys would keep an eye on him.”

Haig sits 1:42 down on Roglič after a day that saw a significant reshaping of the Vuelta’s GC. Perhaps more significantly, Haig is just 21 seconds down on Miguel Ángel López and a prestigious spot on the podium.

The young Aussie came into the race without expectation, and off-the-radar after abandoning the Tour de France with a broken collarbone.

After the Bahraini squad started the Vuelta hoping for a podium or more with Landa, it will now be quietly planning for the same with Haig, who is riding his first season with the squad.

“I knew if I tried my best I could come away with something nice,” Haig wrote on Instagram on Sunday night. “So let’s see how the next two weeks go and let’s make something good from a bad situation.”

Giro d’Italia redux

The situation all makes for a throwback to this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Landa crashed out on stage 5 of the Italian race, and his Bahrain-Victorious teammates picked up the pieces. Mäder and Caruso grabbed stage victories, and the latter scored a second-place overall that nobody expected.

Bahrain-Victorious is already looking ahead to more stage wins and a GC push with Haig after the 33-year-old Caruso’s daring stage win.

“We got one objective today with the stage win of Damiano, and we are now looking to more objectives with Jack, Gino, and Mikel,” Štangelj said Sunday.

Caruso blazed away from the break at 70km to go of Sunday’s attritional mountain stage in a repeat of his long-range raid out of the break on stage 20 of the Giro.

“I went because I knew Ineos was doing a really hard tempo and I said, ‘Before they catch me I want to do a breakaway, maybe alone,'” Caruso said after the stage. “I didn’t expect the gap would get bigger. It’s still unbelievable … It was an amazing feeling, a repeat of this feeling after the Giro is incredible for me.”

Caruso’s incredible solo is something of a bandaid as the team licks its wounds after losing Landa. Now it’s up to Caruso, Haig, and Mäder to heal the damage of another grand tour gone bad for their Basque captain.

“I’m sorry for Mikel [losing time], but today was a really hard stage for everyone,” Caruso said. “I heard something on the radio, but I just focused on my tempo.”

Can Haig match the searing tempo of benchmark rider Roglič through the next two weeks?

A GC victory would be beyond belief. But a top-three for Haig would see Bahrain-Victorious achieving its pre-Vuelta goal – only with the domestique many had overlooked.

Bahrain-Victorious will be hoping for a self-styled “Giro d’España” through the rest of the race.

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