Despite having the structure of his season turned on its head, Simon Yates has embraced the new opportunity and isn't shying away from setting himself the target of a top 10 overall finish at the Tour de France.
The Orica-Scott rider was meant to ride the Giro d'Italia alongside his twin brother, Adam, but was pulled in the second half of April to give the team another option in July, with question marks hanging over the injured designated leader for the Tour, Esteban Chaves.
Arriving in France for the Critérium du Dauphiné, Yates has assumed the leadership role, partly to take the pressure off Chaves, who is making his comeback after a four-month absence, but he has had little trouble adapting to his improvised programme. The Tour de Romandie was swapped in place of a final pre-Giro block of altitude training and while a stage win and second overall might have suggested he was well on his way to his Giro peak, Yates explained his body doesn't work in that way.
"I wouldn't say I'm one of these riders that really comes up and peaks really strongly for one race. I'm pretty consistent year-round. My level doesn't really change – ok, I might have a shit day, but I never have this big peak of huge form and then a big dip," Yates told Cyclingnews at Orica-Scott's hotel in Saint-Etienne on Sunday evening.
"Look at my results in 2015. And this year, for example, I started strongly – at Paris-Nice I won a stage, then at the Basque country I had my best numbers but not my best results, then you have Romandie. It's always there or thereabouts. It didn't really change that much for me. Ok, I could've done a couple of small things differently ahead of the Tour, but I would have been around the same mark."
After Romandie, Yates spent the best part of three weeks training at altitude near his home in Andorra, turning on the TV on his return from his daily outings to check in on his brother's progress in Italy. He arrived in France with the tag of outright leader for the Dauphiné, something he admits was designed to ease the pressure on Chaves, but nevertheless something he feels is fully deserved.
"Having not raced for so long, for sure you don't want that pressure to come back to at the first race back. It would take a strong rider… which I think he is. Personally I think he'll probably be all right, if I'm honest. But to come back and step into it straight away, it's difficult, and you can take that away. I think it's a wise decision," said Yates.
"Nothing changes for me anyway. I come to these races as a GC leader anyway – this year alone I've led at Paris-Nice, Basque Country, and Romandie, so it doesn't change anything for me."
After both riders safely negotiated Sunday's hilly opening stage around Saint-Etienne, two probable sprint stages precede the start of the GC battle on stage 4. A time trial, it will put both on the back foot, though there are plenty of mountains to climb in the final three stages.
"I want to finish as high on GC as possible," said Yates. "I always try to come with a winning mindset, but we'll have to assess after this time trial. For me, the aim is to be as high as possible on GC, and for Esteban it's to come through this in good condition before the Tour – though he'll probably do a bit better than that, if I'm honest."
The week should give some indication as to how things can be expected to pan out at the Tour de France. Chaves may be the proven Grand Tour podium finisher, but Yates is no mere plan B, and he wants to push himself to land a top 10 result.
The bar has already been set with his stage win and sixth place at last year's Vuelta a España, his first attempt at "going the full distance on GC". With the caliber of riders at the Tour – including Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Richie Porte, and Romain Bardet – a top 10 would arguably slot in as his standout achievement to date.
"I just want to have... going back to what we were talking about before with the consistency, I've been top 10 in a Grand Tour before, and if I can replicate that I'll be very happy. I'm not an old guy, I'm still near the beginning of my career, so if I can be close to the top 10 that'd be great," he said.
"If you're racing for the top 10, you're also going to be there or thereabouts for the white jersey [for best young rider - ed.] That's not a priority at the minute – I'll try and race as high up overall – but near the end if it's close we might adjust a few things."
What was striking about the Vuelta last year was the way Chaves and Yates dovetailed their efforts, and harmony rather than headache has been the theme as Orica's three stage race talents have blossomed in the past couple of years.
"I don't think there's any sort of rivalry in the team – we have great relationship. I think that has showed at the Vuelta and other races," said Yates. "So I don't see why we can't show that again here, and then again at the Tour, and on into the future."