Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) does not tend to mince his words, and so far he hasn't, he says, been finding it easy going in the 2017 Vuelta a España. But at the same time, Yates remains upbeat and he has every intention of staying in the GC game as the race now hits theoretically more favourable terrain with a series of high mountain stages.
"It's been tough, really," Yates told Cyclingnews when asked about the first week. "Almost every stage has been super long, most of them have been super windy and stressful, there have been crashes, the last climbs have been super steep.
"I did know what to expect, since I did the Vuelta in 2014 and it's pretty much the same. They always seem to go along the coast where it's more windy. But so far so good, really."
Yates is now lying ninth overall, 1:55 behind leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), a position that is somewhat overshadowed by teammate Esteban Chaves, who is second overall, 36 seconds back. But that doesn't mean the Bury man's GC battle is over.
Chaves himself has already said that it's good for the team to have two GC cards to play, just as Orica-Scott did to impressive effect in last year's Vuelta, with Chaves taking third overall and Simon Yates taking sixth as well as one of the Australian team's four stage wins. This time round, it's Adam who's working out best as Orica-Scott's other option.
Yates is pleased that the steeper climbs that have proliferated in the first week are now pretty much over. "I feel better when the gradient is a bit lower. All these little steep finishes, I keep losing seconds here, seconds there on these climbs, but I think we're still in a good position. Esteban second is and I'm still in the top 10," he said.
"We're still running GC a little bit, sixth place overall last year in the Vuelta was something like eight minutes down [8:33 – ed.] and I'm only two minutes down. I'm kind of hoping I'll feel better on those long climbs, it's not like I feel bad, but I don't feel I have the punch, and I don't know why."
There are several possible explanations for this lack of explosivity on the climbs, but Yates cannot identify the precise reason with certainty. "It's the first time I've done the Giro and Vuelta program, two Grand Tours in the year. The heat's getting to me a little bit, I've done a lot of heat training so it's not as bad as it used to be but I still don't perform well in heat, to an extent," he said.
"There was a little bit of discussion about losing more time on purposes and then going for stages, but in the position we're in, it's more handy to do better on GC and on some of the later stages we can try something."
Chaves, meanwhile, has everything to play for. "For sure man. He's come back really well from injury at the start of the year. He's ridden the Tour in support and he's come here in super condition but wasn't too fatigued from that. He's in great shape," Yates said.
"He's second overall, Froomey's looking pretty strong and quite tough to beat, he's still got that time trial [on stage 16]. But we've got options." And on Tuesday, on the long, draggy, first category Collado Bermejo climb in Murcia, Yates may well finally find a 2017 Vuelta stage to his liking.
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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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