After finally returning to the podium of a Grand Tour in 2022 at the Giro d’Italia, Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) has confirmed that he will be heading back to the Tour de France in 2023.
Landa, 32, told reporters on Friday that the opportunity to take part in the Tour de France, which begins on his home soil in Bilbao, was too good to miss.
Third in the Giro d’Italia last May, seven years after he finished in the same position in 2015, Landa, 32, last rode the Tour in 2020, claiming fourth overall.
His Basque teammate Pello Bilbao, who has regularly ridden the Giro in recent years and who claimed fifth last May, is also slated to head for the Tour’s Grand Départ in Bilbao on July 1st. In addition, Bilbao will miss out on the Tour of the Alps next April, where he has consistently turned in top performances over the years, as he is set for a return to the Ardennes Classics.
“Riding the Tour in the Basque Country is a very big motivation for me,” Landa said. “It’s a historic occasion and I am going to enjoy it. Racing over home roads will be a factor in my favour for sure.
“On top of that, the race route in 2023 has very little time trialling and is very mountainous, so that is ideal for me.”
Twice fourth in the Tour de France and only a few seconds off the podium in 2017, Landa said that his overall goals for 2023 were to be “close to the podium in the Tour, fight for a weeklong stage race like Itzulia or the Volta a Catalunya and to win a stage somewhere. It’s been too long since I last won.”
Regrettably for Landa, bad luck has been a constant in his career, with injuries and crashes wrecking his chances at times. But he said that returning to a podium on a Grand Tour at 32 as he did this May in the Giro constituted a much-needed boost to his confidence.
“It meant a lot to me,” the Basque rider said, “I’d been on the hunt for it since 2015.
“In 2021, I crashed and had to go home. So it was a really good moment, and it’s given me confidence that it’s possible again.”
Third in Il Lombardia at the end of the 2022 season in the teeth of some very serious opposition raised Landa’s confidence even higher, he said, as it came after a miserable Vuelta a España and saw him back in the game after a series of injuries, too.
“Lombardia was good because it came against some of the biggest names out there,” he said. “So it reminded me of what I can do.”
Apart from the Tour, Landa said that he would be perhaps adding in the Ardennes Classics and the Vuelta to his 2023 program. But the first priority of the upcoming season, he said, was to have a strong start to the year, “because the preparation is the same but with the Tour coming up, I hope to be more in the action in the early races as well.”
Bilbao was equally enthusiastic about the Basque Country start for the Tour, saying directly that the Grand Départ was the reason for dropping the Giro from his 2023 plans.
“It’s the chance of a lifetime and you can’t ask for greater motivation than that. I know the first two stages perfectly, it’s my training grounds and the first stage goes through Gernika, my home town.”
“It’s hard to give up on the Giro, it’s a race where I’ve shone the best and which has given me the greatest confidence. But I know firsthand what doing a Giro and a Tour in the same year means and it would have been very hard to combine.”
Although Bilbao has now raced 14 Grand Tours, the 32-year-old has made only three Tour de France starts to date. But after beginning his season in January at the Tour Down Under, Bilbao said that he would be working 100 percent to be there in great form. “It’s the big objective of the season,” he said.
Although the addition of Landa and Bilbao can only improve Bahrain Victorious’ chances in the Tour de France, Landa – who lavished praise on Bilbao’s role alongside him in Bahrain Victorious as a teammate “who’s always helped me in the difficult moments” – was realistic about his chances of taking on riders like Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
“It’s very hard to find a weak point in them, probably the most likely weak point would be if they had a bad day,” Landa said. “We’re all human, after all, so maybe it could happen.”