Simon Yates 'ecstatic' with time gains but mindful of 'bigger picture' at Giro d'Italia

BUDAPEST HUNGARY MAY 07 Simon Yates of United Kingdom and Team BikeExchange Jayco sprints next to the Hungarian Parliament in the city of Budapest during the 105th Giro dItalia 2022 Stage 2 a 92km individual time trial stage from Budapest to Budapest ITT Giro WorldTour on May 07 2022 in Budapest Hungary Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) on his way to victory in the stage 2 time trial at the Giro d'Italia 2022 (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

After an ultra-predictable victory for Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) on Friday’s opening stage of the Giro d’Italia, Saturday’s time trial produced one of the race’s biggest surprises of recent years as Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) claimed the second TT win of his career and simultaneously delivered a major psychological blow to the opposition.

One indication of the scale of the surprise of Yates’ win was the mass stampede of Giro journalists in the finishing enclosure in hot pursuit of a first quote from Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) after the Dutchman claimed the provisional best time on the stage. 

In the rush, they all failed to notice that Yates, finishing just a few seconds later and with just one team press officer and camera crew jogging alongside him on the oppressively-narrow cobbled lane that served as the finishing straight, had in fact ousted the Dutchman from the number one spot on the day by five seconds. 

Nor was this a victory by the bare minimum, either. On a course just 9.2km long, Yates garnered a solid three-second advance on the final man home, race leader Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). Furthermore, he put 15 seconds of daylight between himself and arch GC rival João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) as well as 28 seconds on Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers). 

At this stage in the game, and with all the mountains to come - Yates' usual happy hunting ground, those are not insignificant advances.

With only two time trial wins - the other coming at Paris-Nice a few years back - to his name, it went without saying that afterwards Yates described his third victory of the season and fifth Giro stage of his career as his best-ever time trial. 

"For sure it’s a little bit unexpected," he recognised, "but I’ll take these wins as they come."

As for the opposition, Yates pointed to Giro leader Van der Poel as a standout pre-race favourite, which of course made the fact he could deprive the Dutchman of a second win in two days even more of a shock.

"It was a very good TT for him, quite technical, short, and with a climb at the end and he’s a very explosive rider. I don’t have to tell you how good he is, so it doesn’t surprise me he was so good. What surprised me was I was in front of him, especially with the form he showed yesterday [Friday]."

Another indication of how few people had seen this victory coming emerged when Yates was asked directly during the winner’s press conference what chance of victory, as a percentage, he had given himself before the rolling down the start ramp of the time trial in Heroes Square.

"I don’t do percentages," Yates answered, "but we worked very hard with equipment and positioning for sure. I have to thank out partners Giant and Cadex, we put a lot of work in this year and it’s paid off."

Yates singled out time trialling expert and retired rider Marco Pinotti as being instrumental in his success, saying: "I’m very happy for him because he’s put a lot of effort into this."

Long term, Yates played down the significance of his victory, saying: "Today was, what, a 12-minute effort. We still have much more demanding stages in front of us. Etna [on stage 4] is an hour-long ride uphill."

Yates' caution as he became the first British TT stage winner in the Giro since Alex Dowsett back in 2013 is perhaps understandable. In 2018 he showed his hand strongly early on, held the lead for nearly two weeks, and then ended cracking badly almost within sight of the finish.

"So of course we’ll celebrate today - it’s one of two time trials I’ve won in my career and I’m ecstatic I gained time and didn't lose any - but I think we need to look at the bigger picture," he said.

"It’s a different race from hereon."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.