In all the fuss about Geraint Thomas' latest bid to use the Giro d'Italia to prove he really can fight for a Grand Tour, it sometimes feels as if another British rider's battle to go for the GC in the Giro this May has been overshadowed. The ironic thing is, of course, that in terms of GC contention, Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) has already been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Or in Yates' case, some nice white maillots as the 2016 Tour's Best Young Rider.
If you discount team prizes, Yates is one of just three currently active British riders together with Chris Froome (Sky) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) to have made it onto the race's final podium in Paris – or the final podium of any Grand Tour for that matter. Yet, despite Yates' breakthrough fourth-place ride in the Tour, such is the range of Orica-Scott's GC talent that Yates' brother Simon, sixth in the 2016 Vuelta, and Giro and Vuelta podium finisher Esteban Chaves will be taking on the Tour in 2017. Adam, meanwhile, is looking to make his mark in the one Grand Tour neither he nor Simon have raced before: the Giro d'Italia.
It's a sign of his youth – he's still only 24 – that Yates first memory of the Giro is, he tells Cyclingnews, "2009 and the Rome time trial over the cobbles, when [overall winner Denis] Menchov crashed, a big dramatic finish. Before that, I don't really remember much."
Even so, eight years of watching the Giro d'Italia on and off since then has been ample time for Yates to reach his own conclusions about how it is raced, particularly after he started doing reconnaissance for the 2017 Giro d'Itala. That recon largely consisted of watching old race videos of the Giro's big climbs and being an armchair critic: "Sitting on my arse on the sofa and saying 'what's he doing attacking there?'" as he puts it with a grin.
But he's reached some important conclusions, too. Just as Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) recently told sister-publication Procycling, the far less structured, haphazard style of racing that seems to flourish at the Giro compared to the Tour couldn't fail to strike home – although he is guarded about whether that is to his advantage.
"Well, we'll find out, won't we?" Yates replies when asked if he liked that kind of more anarchic racing in real life as well as from a couch potato's point of view. "But I think it could suit me. In the Tour, I did a good ride, I was pretty consistent, but the guys that were ahead of me were just better than me. There was never any opportunity to attack that comes with the kind of carnage you don't get when the racing is more controlled, like in the Tour.
"So if there's some kind of attack going in the Giro, it's all kicking off and you can suddenly pound off down the road, then instead of fourth overall maybe I can finish a bit higher. But we'll have see."
Yates is not, in any case, willing to say how much higher he would settle for in Milan. Asked if he would sign now for, say, a guaranteed third place on May 28th, he instantly responds: "No. I wouldn't sign for anything yet. Even if you're going for the win, whatever you end up with is whatever you end up with. If I try my best then if I come out with a good result, that's what it is."
Like the out-and-out climber he is, he's pleased rather than intimidated that the first opportunity for a good result will come as soon as Mount Etna on stage 4.
"There'll be less waiting around for 12 stages to get to the mountains, it gets a bit boring like that, doesn't it? I don't mind, because you get stuck in, you suss people out early on and see how they're going. Obviously there's a hard last week, but I prefer having that knowledge early on."
"The third week, though, is where it's all going to be decided. Everybody's feeling tired, feeling the ks and specially this year, with all the toughest stages at the end. But for me the condition's good, I'm feeling good, so I'm ready."
Yates says he will not let the sometimes hyper-emotional feelings of the local tifosi for their home race affect him, arguing, "I'm just riding my bike, I don't get involved in that stuff, do I?" But he does recognise that for the Italian riders in the peloton, the Giro has a very special place in their hearts –and that has a huge knock-on effect in the racing. "They're so passionate about it, and again, that makes it so much harder as a race because they want to win there so much, even the smaller teams. I remember a couple of years ago Bardiani won about three or four stages. So when it comes to their home races, the Italians give it everything."
While Yates says Italy has rarely figured in his holiday plans, and he doesn't race much in Italy, it's surely motivating for him this May that he has rarely fared badly in Italian events. Apart from falling sick in Tirreno this spring. He has taken two wins in one of Italy's top minor Classics, the GP Industria & Artigianato Larciano, one in his rookie year as a pro back in 2014 and again in 2017. Then in 2015, a seventh place on the Terminillo and a ninth place overall in Tirreno-Adriatico were amongst his first top WorldTour stage racing results.
The late confirmation of the absence of Simon Yates from the Giro's GC line-up this year, does make a difference, he says, but he's certainly not regarding it as a devastating blow to his plans. As Yates puts it, "It's a shame, but it's not the end of the world."
While British rival Thomas has laid down a high-profile marker for the Giro d'Italia with victory at the Tour of the Alps, Yates has been progressing in a more under-the-radar fashion towards Friday's start line in Sardinia. An eighth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège last Sunday might have been Britain's best result at La Doyenne since Max Sciandri took fifth way back in 1997, but it was largely unheralded in the media. However, such a strong (and unprecedented) result in cycling's most challenging hilly Classic also showed, as Orica-Scott teammate Michael Albasini pointed out at the Liège finish, "that Adam's ready for the Giro d'Italia."
The reasons for Yates being switched from the Tour last year to the Giro d'Italia in 2017, Orica-Scott's manager Matt White tells Cyclingnews, are "partly because he's 24, so it's still part of his development there. The Giro is a very different beast to the Tour de France and it'll be great for Adam to experience that."
"The second one is we'll be going there for a high GC place, to win – who knows? – but certainly being very competitive from the word go and doing as well as he can."
The Etna and the Blockhaus climbs coming so early on will make the Giro a real challenge from the word go, White believes, "before one of the densest final weeks of mountain climbing of a Grand Tour I think I've ever seen. And there are no easy Giros, but this time round the guys are going to have to be ready from very early on."
Yates is on track for that, White says. "He was fourth in the Volta a Catalunya, and then he's been preparing in Andorra since then, only coming down for Liège and back up there again afterwards before heading to Italy on Tuesday. He's done three stage races this year, Valencia, Tirreno which he nearly finished then Catalunya, and Liège was a good result as well. And he's looking forward to it starting off next week."
Orica-Scott's track record in the Giro d'Italia is an excellent one, ever since the team began in 2012. Since the early days their results have steadily ramped up from team time trial wins, stage wins from riders like Pieter Weening, Matt Goss and Michael Matthews and first week stints in pink for various leaders to Chaves' second place and stage win last year, their first Grand Tour podium. Although White says that Yates won't be under pressure to perform from the team, historically that's a series of results that is hard to ignore.
"As far as I can remember, we've always at least won one stage in the Giro, had three or four spells in the lead," White says, "the only difference is that we went with a GC guy last year and we will again this time round, too. We're more of a versatile team."
With no Simon Yates as a joint GC leader, "Adam's going to have to ride a little more savvy, and when it comes into the nitty-gritty of finales there'll be no one there except himself. But few of the GC teams have that luxury of having a teammate there, [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Nairo] Quintana maybe but that'll be it.
"It would have been nice to have Simon there, but whilst it may be tougher for Adam in some ways, it'll teach him more about having to fend for himself in others."
The Giro's more anarchic format, White says, should suit Yates well in that area, "because he's a very adaptable guy, and he has shown that time and again in his short career. Very few teams have been able to dominate the Giro, in any case, like Sky have done in the Tour de France because the Giro's a much more physically demanding event.
"There's not two or three million people standing on the side of the road, but one day in the Giro you can be riding in 30 degree heat and the next you could be riding in snow. The climbs are considerably longer and steeper, and unlike the Tour, they're scattered all over the place. The Tour has even more set-piece battles this year because there are not that many 'inconvenient' stages' on this year's route. It's going to come down to a couple of days whereas the Giro can and does throw up surprises in a different way.
"It's nowhere near as stressful as the Tour, and that's something Adam will enjoy no doubt. But Adam had success already in the Tour, he's shown he's not afraid of trying to be up there, so I don't think the Giro's going to throw him."
In terms of where Yates lies in the pre-race hierarchy of contenders, White says "I don't think there are too many people who wouldn't put Adam as one of the Giro favourites. Along with [Tom] Dumoulin, the two Sky guys, [Ilnur] Zakarin, Thibaut Pinot, he is in your second tier of favourites. You couldn't really put anybody but Nibali and and Quintana in a league above them, of their own. And looking at the roster they've got, Nibali's team are certainly putting all their eggs in their Giro basket, their season will be pretty much defined by the success Nibali has in May so that puts a lot of pressure on that team.
"They've got what's the best field ever, overall, and the organisers must be pretty satisfied with that, whether it's the 100th, the 101st or the 98th edition."
Yates' three-week challenges will not end on May 28 in Milan, whatever happens. He will be returning to the Vuelta a España for the first time since 2014, his rookie year, in his first ever season with two Grand Tours. "It's another challenge, but there is a gap between for a mental break, which is the most important thing. For now, the only race I'm doing before the Vuelta is the Tour of Poland. But in any case, I'm not going to have too much time off after the Giro d'Italia, so I'll just get stuck in," Yates says.
"We've definitely broken the season into two distinct halves," White concludes. "We'll be going full gas for the Giro and then Adam will have that substantial period to rest and build up for the Vuelta, nearly three months."
"You could see how that worked with Esteban" – second in the Giro and third in the Vuelta – "last year and hopefully we'll be doing that with Adam this year." And looking at Yates own track record, as well as Orica-Scott's in the Giro, both rider and team have every reason to be optimistic about that happening.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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