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Schultz stepping up to play key role for Simon Yates at Giro d’Italia

Giro d'Italia 2021 - 104th Edition - 3rd stage Biella - Canale 190 km - 10/05/2021 - Nick Schultz (AUS - Team Bikeexchange) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2021
Nick Schultz of Team BikeExchange in the 2021 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Seconds won and lost in the opening week of the Giro d’Italia move the needle in the general classification but they don’t cause any seismic activity aboard the Team BikeExchange bus. Simon Yates, a model of equanimity in both victory and defeat, simply isn’t that kind of leader.

A week into the Giro, Yates lies in ninth overall, 49 seconds behind the maglia rosa Attila Valter (Groupana-FDJ) and 38 down on the best-placed of the favourites, Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), but there is no immediate concern among his entourage. 

“It’s awesome, he’s super relaxed. This feels like one of the most relaxed Grand Tours I’ve been in and we have one of the pre-race favourites,” Nick Schultz told Cyclingnews.

“He’s super easy to work for, we click well and we don’t really need to speak to each other much during the race. I know what he wants and the other guys know what he wants. It’s super easy.”

Schultz, now in his third year at the GreenEdge organisation, is in his first season as a part of Yates’ key climbing retinue. The Brisbane native caught the eye in the spring with his performances at the UAE Tour (sixth at Jebel Jais), the Settimana Coppi e Bartali (third overall) and the Tour of the Alps (eighth overall), and he has been Yates’ last man on each of the Giro’s climbing days thus far.

“I’ve progressed a little bit this year and I’m starting to have more significant roles in the final, and my job is to be with Simon more or less as long as I can on certain days, just in case anything goes wrong,” said Schultz. “It’s nice for me to be there and see the race evolve.”

Road less travelled

Schultz has had to climb further than most to reach this point. His ascent has more in common with the adventurous young men who followed Phil Anderson out of Australia in the 1980s than with many of his fellow countrymen on the BikeExchange roster. Since the 1990s, the clearest pathway to the top level was through the Australian national set-up, but like Anderson, Peiper et al, Schultz’s road to the paid ranks ran through the school of hard knocks on the French amateur circuit.

“I basically came through the junior ranks with guys who were just better than me, guys like Caleb Ewan and Bradley Linfield,” Schultz explained. “I just wasn’t good enough to make the Australian system and I really wanted to be in Europe, so it was just a matter of a bunch of different people contacting a bunch of different people and an opportunity came up in France.” 

At the age of 18, Schultz packed up and headed to Roanne, where he spent three seasons before joining the SEG Racing Academy. 

“I gained a lot from it, on and off the bike,” he said. In 2016, he even had a stint as a stagiaire at what was then Orica-GreenEdge, but even before he had raced for the team, he was informed that there wouldn’t be a contract for him in 2017. Instead, he made his passage to professionalism in the minor leagues, at Caja Rural.

“That was difficult because I felt I’d had good results in my last year under 23. I’d won a stage in the Tour de Bretagne and then again the Tour de l’Avenir, but then to be going to a smaller Pro Continental team and looking at some of my peers who maybe didn’t have similar results who were going straight to the WorldTour, that wasn’t easy but I just always kept that focus and drive to make it to that top echelon of the sport.”

Even so, Caja Rural gave Schultz a taste of the big time at the Vuelta a España in both 2017 and 2018, and his performances across his two years on the team eventually earned him a full-time berth at GreenEdge. 

“To be honest, it was quite a surprise when they contacted me to offer me a contract,” said Schultz, who characterises himself as a rider who has made “a slow and steady progression” throughout his career.

The upward trajectory continued in his first two seasons at GreenEdge, with last autumn’s condensed and rearranged calendar serving to highlight as much. Strong showings in the Ardennes Classics were followed by 25th overall at the Vuelta.

“I think it’s just I’m finding my legs a bit as I get older, and I certainly felt it at the backend of last year, when I started riding more consistently at the front then,” said the 26-year-old, who will look to shepherd Yates on the climb to Campo Felice on stage 9 in the company of Tanel Kangert and the evergreen Mikel Nieve.

Yates find himself on the back foot after the opening exchanges, but there are many routes to the maglia rosa in a race as backloaded as this Giro. 

“I think come the third week those seconds will be very minor,” Schultz said. “We’re riding and building into it.”

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