Mitchelton-Scott and the making of their Tour de France team

On Friday, Mitchelton-Scott announced the eight-rider roster that will embark on the Tour de France in just over a week. There were no shocks in terms of leadership, with Adam Yates set to lead the line for the second year in a row. However, it was surprising to see that his brother Simon Yates had been included in the team.

The pair have not raced the Tour de France together since 2015 and Simon Yates rolled home in a disappointing eighth in May’s Giro, but he will ride as a super domestique at the Tour de France as he looks repay his brother for the support he was given in last year’s Vuelta a Espana.

The overall complexion of Mitchelton-Scott’s Tour team is still similar to last year, with three bona fide climbers and a strong supporting cast. Simon Yates isn’t the only Giro d'Italia survivor to make the cut for the Tour de France, with Luke Durbridge and Chris Juul Jensen set to arrive in Brussels for the Grand Départ.

Matteo Trentin has been given the chance to hunt stages and work for the team, and Daryl Impey and Michael Hepburn have been brought in to add more steel and firepower for the team time trial and flatter stages. Impey, at 34 years of age, will bridge the communication gap between the riders and the team car. The oldest rider on the team, he will act as the squad’s road captain.

Mitchelton-Scott’s Tour line-up has been in the works for almost a year with Head Sports Director Matt White creating his long list well before this year’s Grand Tour routes were announced last autumn. In recent years, the Australian WorldTour team has morphed into a stage racing force: Simon Yates has targeted the Giro d’Italia for two straight years, making the path clear for his brother to challenge at the Tour.

Leading into this campaign, the questions centred around who would support each rider, and whether Simon Yates could come out of Italy with the physical and mental state needed to ride back-to-back Grand Tours.

“The number one priority was how he came out of the Giro,” White told Cyclingnews. “Twelve months ago, he was sick, and he wasn’t ready to go for the Tour. We had to see how he was physically and mentally this time around. He’s very keen to return the favour of helping his brother for the support he had last year, and he was healthy exiting the Giro this time around.”

There will be those who debate whether Simon Yates’ presence is a distraction, given his own Grand Tour pedigree, and until the Tour de France starts, the team will be peppered with questions as to whether their Giro d'Italia leader is heading to the race as a second leader or ‘plan-B’.

White was quick to dispel such a notion.

“People may not believe it until they see him lose time on general classification but Simon Yates will not be riding GC. We have one solid objective and one jersey that we’ll be chasing and that’s a yellow one. Not a green one, a white one or a polka-dot one. Adam has had a great year and he deserves our full support. Our objective is to support him so he can arrive as high as possible on GC.”

Striking a balance

The last few months have seen a narrowing down of the team’s Tour de France long list. Both Yates brothers were on it from the start – although Simon Yates was down in pencil rather than pen until the Giro was completed – while Mikel Nieve, Durbridge, Damien Howson, Hepburn, Jensen, Trentin, Impey, Luka Mezgec and Sam Bewley were all in the mix. The only exception was Jack Haig, who was scheduled to ride the Giro and Vuelta but a knee injury at the end of March meant his focus switched to July.

There was no chance of Esteban Chaves being called up for the Tour de France given that his focus on the start of the year was to find full health and come through the Giro. Instead, he will head to the Vuelta, with Nieve acting as a key support rider there. The Basque rider was certainly in contention for the Tour de France team, and is no stranger to riding back-to-back Tours. But the squad wishes to fight on all three Grand Tour fronts and cramming a team full of all their best climbers would only dilute a Vuelta bid later in the year.

Mitchelton-Scott have also realized that there’s little to be gained by going toe-to-toe and rider-for-rider with Team Ineos at the Tour. The British team’s tactics of strangling the race means that it counts for little as to how many pocket-rocket climbers you have at the base of the final climb, as one-by-one they’ll slowly lose ground.

Instead, Mitchelton-Scott have selected a core of riders who can perform on the flat roads and the medium mountains. There are two distinct groups: the climbers, consisting of the two twins and Haig, and then a nucleus of Impey, Jensen, Durbridge, and Hepburn. The latter group will power the Mitchelton-Scott engine in the team time trial on stage 2 and marshal the GC bid through the rest of the opening ten stages when nerves are fraught and crashes a constant danger.

Trentin will have chances to shine

The luxury comes in the form of Trentin, and while the Italian has not won a WorldTour race this year, his class is undeniable. He will have his chances to shine but his main focus will be on supporting the team’s yellow jersey bid.

The riders who have missed out – Bewley, Howson, and Mezgec – can count themselves unlucky. Mezgec has been in fine form of late but with the emphasis on GC, his chances of making the squad were difficult.

“The primary target for us is GC and Luka doesn’t have the same engine as some of our other guys, and why would he? Most teams would be happy to take a guy of his quality but with us we don’t have a pure sprinter and his best value is in the lead-out man role and his ability to move in the bunch, the flat this year are also not our priority,” White said.

“With a team of eight, you really need to specialise. He’s realistic and he knows that some of the guys he’s going up against for a spot are some of the best team time trialists in the world and can handle massive load day in, day out.”

Bewley was originally down to ride the Giro d'Italia but crashed at the Tour de Romandie and broke a collarbone. He used the build-up for the Tour as a focus to regain his fitness but he fell just short of making the team. Like Chaves and Nieve, he will ride the Vuelta. Howson has ridden a near perfect Tour de France programme this year and came through the Dauphiné in June. He has been in the team’s last two Tour de France rosters but narrowly missed the boat this time around.

“If there was a nine-man roster he would be in there,” White told Cyclingnews.

“When you’re looking at making a group of eight it’s really hard. He can handle the workload, but he falls in between some of the climbers and some of the riders on the flat. You’ve got to make hard decisions. You also only can’t have eight guys prepare for the Tour and hope that they don’t suffer illness or injury. We have learned that the hard way in the past.”

Overall, this is probably the strongest Tour team Mitchelton-Scott could have produced given that they focus on sending strong GC contingents to all three Grand Tours.

They have Adam Yates looking to rediscover the form that propelled him to fourth a few years ago and his Vuelta-winning brother acting as a foil in the high mountains. Haig will be instrumental too. He was fourth in a tough Paris-Nice and put in two very impressive mountain stage rides at the recent Dauphine.

The rest of the team is robust, to say the least, and if luck is on their side then Mitchelton-Scott should be well-placed in the overall classification throughout the Tour de France.

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