The 25-year-old won three stages, wore the maglia rosa for 17 stages, and was on course to become Britain's first winner of the race, but on stage 19 he suffered one of the worst days of his career, losing over 40 minutes and with it any chance of a high overall place in the general classification.
Such a dramatic decline in fortune and form is never easy to explain but after three weeks without touching his bike, the Mitchelton-Scott rider has had time to analyse not just the incredible stage to Bardonecchia, in which Team Sky turned the race on its head, but his race in its entirety.
"I'm extremely proud of what I did. Coming into the race, nobody thought that I could do what I did. Okay, so I came up short in the end, but I was two-and-a-half, three stages away from winning the Giro d'Italia. Not many guys can say that. I'm proud of what I did. I didn't win, but I'm okay with that, and I'll try to come back and win another time," Yates told Cyclingnews at the French Formula One Grand Prix after Mitchelton-Scott agreed a multi-year deal with Pirelli.
Yates' three weeks off included several days in bed after he came down with a bug straight after the Giro. Whether he was already coming down with something in the final few days of the race is unclear, but hindsight has afforded him the chance to identify any possible mistakes, not just with his ride but with that of Mitchelton-Scott too.
It would be extremely critical to suggest that Yates didn't have a successful race but coming so close and falling short – in the fashion that he did – deserves inspection.
"Maybe I could have been more patient. You saw it: we went full gas from day one to try to win," he says.
"Maybe a little bit of patience [would have helped]… I don't need to be there for every second… I don't know. There are a lot of small things that I can change. Maybe also before the race I could have come in a bit fresher so that I could survive a bit better. Fuelling maybe. There are many small changes.
"Everyone sees the Giro, but the race they didn't see was that I had a really long month before that was super-concentrated in order to get to the race in perfect shape. It was really taxing, and people don't see that on TV."
Suffering on stage 19
While the stage that climbed the Finestre and saw Chris Froome lay the foundations for his win will stand out, it was the day beforehand, to Prato Nevoso, where Yates began to crack. Although he had lost time in the time trial on stage 16, his ride on stage 18 was the first test in which he conceded time on the climbs, with both Froome and Tom Dumoulin among those who distanced the race leader. In just under two kilometres, Yates went from looking unbreakable to unstable. However, the Bury-born athlete argues that his performance that day was in line with his other rides in the Giro d'Italia mountains.
"That day I did really good numbers. If you look at the numbers they were on par or better than the other days, so was it me faltering or everyone else being fresher? Also, it was a really good climb for guys like Dumoulin. Prato Nevoso is a power climb with one effort at the end of the day.
"As soon as the Giro finished, I was completely sick," says Yates, "so maybe I was coming down with something. I had really bad man-flu and I was in bed for three days."
On stage 19, the wheels completely fell off Yates' overall hopes, with him losing over 38 minutes after he was dropped on the Colle delle Finestre.
"If it wasn't Froome, it was going to be Dumoulin. If it wasn't Dumoulin, it was going to be Pozzovivo. It was going to be someone, and that was the day to do it. The stage on the day after was long, but there was no place to surprise," he explains of the stage that turned the Giro d'Italia upside down.
"The Finestre was the only day left where it could happen. As for my day, I felt okay in the morning. I was tired, of course, but it was stage 19 of the Giro, and if someone tells you that they're not tired, then they're lying."
When the dust finally settled, Yates' first thought was to apologise to his teammates for his performance, but the notion was quickly dismissed by both the Mitchelton-Scott management and the seven other riders who had raced in Yates' defence.
"I was more disappointed for the team. They put so much in for me, and my body just wasn't responding, and I don't know why. If I had a reason why – a solid reason why I didn't have the legs to keep going – then it would have been easier, but I really don't know why. I feel like I let the guys down a bit. They really believed in me. Straight away I felt like I needed to apologise to them. They were telling me to shut up and that they would have done the same again. They were disappointed for me but it wasn't like 'you've fucked this up'. I think that as a team we really stepped up once we had the jersey. I think we dominated the race."
"I did the best I could," Yates adds. "Of course, the day that I lost the jersey, I lost a lot of time, but once I'd lost 10 minutes I just completely sat up because I knew that it was over. I could have hung on for a top 10 if that's what I was looking for, but I was looking to win. Once that was out of the question, my head was blown off a bit. But like I say, a few changes here and there and I'm not going to be that far away again. I'm confident that I can come back."
A stronger future, probably at Mitchelton-Scott
Yates will miss the Tour de France this July, with his brother Adam leading the charge for Mitchelton-Scott. Simon will instead focus on either the Vuelta a Espana or the Canadian and US races in the second half of the season, depending on how his recovery and training go over the coming weeks. Whether he returns to the Giro d'Italia in 2019 is unclear, but he is adamant that this year's experiences will stand him in good stead in the future.
"I always believed in myself, that I could podium or win a Grand Tour. I still believe that and probably more so now because I've been there and I've learned about all the responsibilities that come with leading. It didn't phase me and I felt comfortable there. We'll keep trying and I believe that we'll get there eventually."
Perhaps the most pressing matter for Yates over the last few weeks has been deciding his future with several teams looking to sign him. Both Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates have reportedly offered the British rider a contract with a highly increased financial package included. However, remaining at Mitchelton-Scott remains the most likely scenario at this point.
Yates admitted that his decision had already been made and that sporting reasons, rather than money, was the primary reason behind his eventual decision.
"I've had offers. In terms of concrete offers, there have been two, and obviously I've been speaking to a lot of other teams as well," Yates says. "I've made a decision already and that will be announced whenever it's announced.
"At the end of the day I want to win bike races, and I don't want to do it for the money. I earned too much money as a neo-pro on a standard neo-pro wage, which was a lot of money to me. I don't come from a rich family so I don't do this for the cash. I want to win bike races. I want to win big bike races. There have been some big offers but that's not playing on the decision. My decision was based on sporting reasons."
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