Now is the time for Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) to deliver after his strong showing on Stage 4 at the Giro d’Italia, according to Eurosport expert Brian Smith.
The 31-year-old has struggled to make a serious impression at Grand Tours, finishing on the podium just once at the 2015 Giro as he has adopted the role of nearly man.
However, he looked sprightly on the final climb of Tuesday’s stage to Sestola as he stretched the GC favourites and gained time on some of his rivals.
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Expected maglia rosa contenders Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) followed his charge to the finish, but Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck–QuickStep) finished 11 seconds back in the first real moment of the overall battle.
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Despite his mediocre results on the big stage, Landa has built a fervent following on fans who refer to him as ‘Landismo’.
The hashtag #FreeLanda often attracts attention too, so much so that there is even a rap song in his honour that has been watched over 150,000 times.
But Smith said that while the fandom is great to see, it was about time Landa performed on the bike.
"He has to deliver at some point. He has to,” Smith said on The Breakaway.
“There's big pressure on him to deliver. Everybody loves it and says 'FreeLanda' and 'Landismo', all this sort of stuff, and we actually do love it.
“But let's see a big performance, let's see him go out there and do it. And he did that today which is brilliant. He is here to win the Giro and I believe he can."
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Eurosport cycling expert Felix Lowe: "Mikel Landa looked lean and almost unrecognisable as he finally pulled the trigger and didn’t fumble the gun after his teammates paved the way on the rain-soaked final climb on Tuesday.
"It’s amazing to think that the 31-year-old Basque climber has yet to deliver on the promise he showed when finishing third in the 2015 Giro for Astana.
"After underwhelming stints at Sky and Movistar – both of which thwarted by leadership issues – Landa finally looks at home at Bahrain-Victorious. Given the slightly weak field and his form, Landa will never have a better chance to win a Grand Tour.
"It’s early days, but he looks motivated, hungry and able – while Bahrain are arguably the strongest squad at the race, with mountain lieutenants Pello Bilbao and Damiano Cunego set to play a key role in Landa’s quest for belated glory.
"Much will depend on how former teammate Egan Bernal and the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Hugh Carthy perform in the high mountains – but on this showing, Landa is a shoo-in to secure only the second podium finish in his Grand Tour career."
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