Every new year is an opportunity to throw off the shackles of what has come before, and embrace a fresh start. From recent evidence, this seems to be a mantra that Mikel Landa has embraced more enthusiastically than most: having left Bahrain Victorious after four years for the unlikely embrace of Soudal–Quick Step, Landa appears to be living his best life.
There are three primary pieces of evidence I’m basing this on, all of which reshape everything I thought I knew about Mikel Landa. What I thought I knew about the Landa in my brain: he’s an earnest, sad-eyed Spaniard who’s good for a top-10 at a Grand Tour (eight of those and counting!) but seldom the equal of the peloton’s true top tier. The Landa in my brain: drifting backwards shooting meme-worthy side-eyes at the TV camera. The Landa in my brain: subject of one of those weird AI websites that tells you he’s maybe single and looking to mingle, and takes a wild guess at his net worth.
The Mikel Landa in my brain – 34 years old and 14 seasons into his pro career – also took a contract at Soudal–Quick Step as a kind of last-chance saloon riding for the ambitions of Remco Evenepoel rather than his own. That Mikel Landa, I imagined, would be even more earnestly sad-eyed than he already is. That makes these three pieces of evidence – all occurring within the last three days – all the more jarring.
Let’s visit them in turn.
Exhibit A: the profile picture
January 1 is the Internationally Recognised Day for every pro cyclist to drop their #newprofilepic on Elon Musk’s hellsite. Rider after rider fill Soudal–Quick Step’s X feed, smiling gently, hands on hips. Is this the choice Mikel Landa made? It is not.
I could comment on his rogueish wink, or the way that he is seducing Wout Beels’ lens. I will resist the temptation to do any of those things, and simply say that he looks pleased to be in Soudal–Quick Step’s kit, and Soudal–Quick Step’s kit looks pleased to be on him. All of him.
Exhibit B: the succulent Belgian meal
Pro cyclists live a monastic existence, carefully watching grams and calories in the hope of a decisive advantage some months in the future. So when Mikel Landa was visiting his team’s homeland, you will understand that there was some excitement about his culinary (mis)adventures. Belgium is not a country of great culinary renown (with at least one notable exception), but that didn’t stop the Basque rider from ordering a tray of chips, a couple of kebabs, an eerily yellow dipping sauce, and letting the good times roll.
Is there any evidence that he actually ate all the food in front of him? Alas, no, but he does convincingly have his teeth chomped down on a wedge of lamb, and that is not worth nothing. His pose is relaxed, his eyes either fierce or jovial (cover the top and bottom of his face and let me know what you reckon 🤷), and he has a chip overboard.
Either way: I’m pleased for him on all counts.
I’m also pleased for the Wevelgem branch of Bossuwé that I have not-at-all-creepily traced Landa’s meal to. If you’re in an anonymous industrial estate on the edge of town – near the Soudal-Quick Step service course, should we hazard a guess – and are in search of a meal that one Google reviewer slammed as consisting of “very few and limp fries, a cold garlic sausage with a strange taste, a fried hunter’s sausage that tastes suspiciously like a fried garlic sausage and chicken and cheese donuts that smell and taste like fish sticks,” then you can (maybe) do worse.
Exhibit C: Landa, lover of the arts
Saving the best for last is this intriguing specimen that was teased by Landa on New Year’s Eve and released on January 1. A simple kit reveal? Oh, how naive. Somehow Landa has found himself in collaboration with the Spanish modern classical group Suakai (a “neomusical collective,” in the group’s own words) for an eight and a half minute music video.
Landa paces onto a moodily lit set and clicks into his bike on a trainer, accompanied by moody strings and mallet percussion, while the camera lovingly rests its gaze on his bike (S-Works!), his computer (Garmin!), his trainer (Tacx!), and his Sensible Shoe Shoulder Sponsor (Safety Jogger!). His session begins.
This is, Suakai say, “music that evolves to the rhythm of a heartbeat” – “an original composition created with the idea of merging heartbeats and music. The heart guides the musicians while the music motivates the heart, creating an unprecedented rhythmic and musical cycle.”
There are lots of slow close-ups of Landa, headphones on, dripping sweat everywhere. There are some slightly heavy-handed shots of him looking at his heartrate on his watch (Garmin again!) when it’s visibly right there on his head unit (still Garmin!). We see him get his heart rate up from the 70s to the 190s as the music moves with him, shifting through stirring major-key string motifs and moody minor-key ones, some sinister ambient drones, and a quartet of young musicians making daring fashion choices.
It’s great – just like Landa’s kebab, and Landa’s cheesy/sleazy profile picture. These three exhibits, meatsticks and all, combine to make me feel extremely good about an Extremely Basque Man’s arrival at an Extremely Belgian Team.
Sometimes, I guess opposites attract.
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