“Afraid of the rain? What are you saying? Let it Rain, let it rain”. This is how Mikel Landa speaks, looking at the sky, at the clouds that first cover the beautiful Plasencia with thick mist, at the foot of the Apennines, then with water. It rains and it rains and it does not stop raining, soft rain all day, spring downpours in the mountains that are always so green, it rains and Landa smiles. “Much better for allergies,” says Landa, who soaks himself in the water that blesses him, looks at his back, sad, downcast faces, so naked the cyclists run without the sunglasses that protect their gaze, which transforms them in enigmas that frighten, and attacks. There is less than a kilometer of the Passerino, more of a wall than a col, the gateway to the town of Sestola, the goal, two kilometers beyond, and Mount Cimone higher up, and the landscape, the towns, the smells, the Goat roads are not so different from those of the Basque Country.
More than an attack, it is a declaration of intent, a proclamation, a cry. Landa is.
Five years ago, and no fan forgets it, Landa, then leader of the great Sky, could not reach Sestola. That Giro, the Tomba station was the final point of the tenth stage, the one that followed a rest day that did not sit well with him. He got off the hook as soon as the stage started. His faithful Mikel Snow accompanied him for a while. Then he got off the bike. The history that was an elegy repeats itself like an epic. And still raining.
Ahead they fight for the stage victory and the pink jersey some of the secondary ones who have starred in the first chapters of the stage, which occupy 180 of the 187 total, the kilometers of wear, those of cursing the water on a seesaw track so truthfully described as leg breakers, as they freeze on the descents, and they hurt like hell when they go back up; those of suffering for suffering, those of counting the kilometers that seem to never end, those that make cycling a full sport, of resistance and dynamite; Those who, at the pace set by Filippo Ganna, metamorphosed into a laborious and tenacious mule and tireless in pink, still lead the platoon as desired by their leader, Egan Bernal, and after the locomotive Cavagna, an ambitious Remco pawn, destroy Joao’s forces. Almeida, who is not the same Lusitanian from last year, so lively; those who leave Nibali, who continues to complain of pain in the wrist so recently operated, and Marc Soler.
Of the initial escape of 25, two survive. They are an American who, when he went through Sky, promised to be the good heir to Armstrong, and ended up in the UAE, Joe Dombrowski, and Alessandro de Marchi, an Italian from Friuli, a redhead who only enjoys long escapes. The Yankee from Christiana (Delaware), who turns 30 on Wednesday 12, takes the stage and earns the nickname, perhaps forever, of Joe DiMaggio (but without Marilyn); for Ottavio Bottecchia’s countryman, also a Taurus (he turns 35 on Wednesday 19), the first pink jersey of his life, which is, as he says, a reward for so many years on the run at the Giro.
Just over three minutes later, the good guys from the Giro arrive, ready to star in the end of the film. Landa guides them.
Landa has changed. When he attacks, hard, hard, he maintains his apparent calm as always, his body arched, his ass well raised on the saddle, but his hands no longer let them down but he grabs the handlebars by the levers, up. And he does not look back again. He has the glances of his rivals engraved on his head, whom, for several kilometers, his partner, and friend, Pello Bilbao, has tortured with an asphyxiating rhythm. Imagine that after his coup he will be joined by the best of the favorites who have seen him leave. They all try. Few succeed. There are three of them: Egan, the most agile, the one who impresses the most; the Russian Vlasov, who already excelled in the time trial, and the Englishman from Angliru, Hugh Carthy. Neither the other important Englishman, Simon Yates, nor Remco, the expected one, could answer. They reached 11s. Nibali and Soler, at 34s.
Landa gets off the bike as calm as if he were back on the handle after running errands and talks. He tells about the sad faces of his rivals. His eyes sparkle with joy. Not even the mask can hide his smile from ear to ear. “But I laugh alone now, huh? On the bike I also suffered ”.