Adam Yates: To lead the Tour de France team is an honour

With just over a week to go before the start of the race, Mitchelton-Scott's Tour de France leader, Adam Yates, is raring to go.

The British climber has been cast as the undisputed leader of the Australian team's eight-man squad – to the detriment of Caleb Ewan, who had been expected to be named on the team for the sprint stages.

"I was pretty disappointed for Caleb," Yates told the press on Thursday. "I was out there with him in California when we did a training camp in Lake Tahoe before the Tour of California, and all the team was working well together, and getting ready for the Tour. But management changed their mind, and that's how it is. There's more pressure on me now, but it doesn't really change anything too much for me."

Yates went into May's Tour of California unsure of how well he would go, having had to battle back from a broken pelvis sustained at the Volta a Catalunya six weeks previously. He ended up taking fourth overall there, after finishing third on stage 2 behind Egan Bernal (Team Sky) and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), and second to Bernal on the queen stage to Lake Tahoe.

Yates then rode the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he rode strongly and consistently in the mountains, and then won the final stage to secure second place overall, just a minute behind winner Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), and 47 seconds ahead of big French hope Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale).

"I obviously came out of the Dauphiné really well, having felt as though I was getting better with every stage," said Yates. "Training's been going well since then, and I'm feeling good. Everything's slotting into place. But training's a lot different to racing, so you don't really know how you're going until you start racing again.

"At pretty much every race we go to now, we've got a GC leader," he continued, referring to the team's change of focus from being one capable of getting in the mix on all kinds of terrain, to one with a roster that can be competitive at the Grand Tours. "We're pretty experienced these days, and everyone has a job to do, so it's a case of putting it all together and not making any silly mistakes."

Rather than identifying any particular mountain stages on which he can shine, Yates suggests that he's approaching this Tour with a focus on consistency on a daily basis.

"It's about picking up seconds here and seconds there," he said. "Two years ago, when I was fourth at the Tour, we weren't initially targeting the GC, and just sort of fell into it, and then just took it day by day. It is a little bit different going to the Tour as a GC leader from the start, so we just have to try to do everything right from day one.

"The Tour de France is the biggest race in the world, so to go there as the leader of the team is a big honour," he continued. "There's a lot of pressure, but we've got a good strong team around me, and it's an opportunity. We have to take those opportunities when we can."

Yates wasn't going to be able to get away without being asked about whether compatriot Chris Froome should be at the race when his salbutamol case is still hanging over him, but the 25-year-old was suitably diplomatic.

"The rules say he's allowed to race, and it doesn't change my race preparation. Is he the favourite? Well, he's won four Tours, so I hope he is. If I'd won four Tours, I'd hope I was," Yates laughed. "Sky are going to take a strong team, as always, and he'll be the guy to beat."

As to whether Froome might be tired after having raced, and won, the Giro d'Italia, Yates said: "We'll see, won't we? In the past, riders who have done the Giro and the Tour have come up short. It's a tricky one to manage. But, at the end of the day, it's still Chris Froome, and he's won a lot of bike races, so you can never count him out. We'll just have to take advantage when we can, as will everyone else."

Alongside Froome, Movistar and their three-pronged attacking line-up of Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde will be ones to beat.

"All three of them are super-strong," Yates agreed, "and all three know what they're doing. They've all been to Grand Tours before. Obviously, they're going to be aggressive, and they've got options. But, that could work to my advantage if they're aggressive, and help to gain some time over some of the other GC guys."

Yates repeatedly pointed to the first nine days of this year's Tour as being important, but not absolutely key, to his race.

"We've got pretty much nine stages of flat before the first mountain stages, on which the team has got to look after me," he said. "But it's more about limiting our losses.

"We have got the team time trial on stage 3, and we've got a really strong team for that," Yates said, suggesting that the team could be in the frame for the stage win. "But there are not a lot of other stages to gain any time on. It really is more about not losing time."

Stage 9, from Arras to Roubaix, features a number of sectors of cobbles, and is being described as a 'mini Paris-Roubaix'. Many of the GC contenders are rightly worried about the stage, as a number of bids for overall victory could come unseated – literally in some cases. Yates, however, is not unduly worried.

"I raced on the cobbles quite a lot as an under-23 rider, so it's not going to be the first time for me," he said. "And I did a recce of the stage not long ago with Mat Hayman, who obviously knows what he's doing, so he gave me some tips. There are a lot of other skinny climbers, like me, who are going to suffer, but I've got a strong team around me, with a lot of big guys who can look out for me, and, as I said earlier, this first week is going to be a lot about limiting losses.

"I don't think you can win this Tour in the first nine days, but you can lose it, so we'll just have to try our best to stay out of trouble."

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