The Giro d'Italia has yet to announce its route for 2021 but Simon Yates is "highly likely" to be on the start line before taking on the Tour de France and the Olympic Games. It's still undecided as to whether Yates will target the overall in either the Giro or the Tour, with one of those Grand Tour starts set to focus on stage wins, but according to team director Matt White, the British rider will have the backing of Team BikeExchange.
"We're just waiting on the final course for the Giro but we have a fair idea of what we're doing," White told Cyclingnews.
"We know what he's [Yates] doing for the next month. He'll do Valencia and Tirreno and once we see the course for the Giro we'll make a decision. It's highly likely that he'll do both the Giro and Tour, but in what role, we'll make that call later."
Yates won the Vuelta a España in 2018 and led the Giro d'Italia up until the final few days during that same year. He finished eighth a year later but suffered a dip in results in 2019. Last year, he looked on course to challenge for the Giro again but a positive coronavirus test meant he, and later his team, were forced to leave the race.
With his brother Adam now at Ineos Grenadiers, Yates has more freedom to target Grand Tours, and with a glut of time trial kilometers at the Tour de France, it's no wonder that he and his team have yet to announce their concrete plans.
"A big goal for Simon is the Olympic Games, and I don't think that we'll see anyone doing GC in both the Giro and Tour, and then going to the Olympics to ride for a high place. We've already seen that [Mikel] Landa has put his hand up for both and [Vincenzo] Nibali has too. [Bauke] Mollema has too, and there will be more of those guys this year. I think all of those guys, including Simon, once they see the course details for the Giro, they'll target one of the two. Some might target the Giro and then just see what happens at the Tour. If they're in a good place they might roll with it at the Tour," White added.
With Adam Yates and Jack Haig leaving, White is hopeful that Lucas Hamilton can step up and fill the void. The 24-year-old won a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico last year, and although he has only started two Grand Tours, White believes that the Australian can make another leap in 2021 and lead the team into a three-week race.
"I would expect to see Lucas step up this year. Where that happens, we'll lock that in once the Giro course is announced but he'll definitely be leading us in a Grand Tour this season. Last year's Giro was obvious a shit show but even after Simon left the race Lucas was in a good place, and he was even ahead of guys like Tao Geoghegan Hart when we had to go home. It was disappointing, and Lucas had made a big step up with the level he had at Tirreno and he was ready.
"Adam Yates and Jack Haig have gone and now Lucas is going to aim at stepping up in a lot of races. He's going to have a lot of freedom in the spring and he'll be leading us in a Grand Tour - definitely. He's in the same class as riders like Pavel Sivakov and Jai Hindley. Those three were on the podium in the Baby Giro the year before they all turned pro, and all three are class acts, and Lucas is ready to make that next step. I think that we'll take Lucas to the Tour and that gives us a good option, but I would be expecting us to go to the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta with a GC rider there."
While Hamilton's Grand Tour ambitions look clear, the same may not be said of Esteban Chaves. The Colombian climber is in a contract year and after another underwhelming season in 2020, he needs to impress. The 30-year-old was once seen as a Grand Tour contender and in 2016 he finished the year with podium spots in both the Giro and the Vuelta. However, since then he has been plagued by health problems and injuries. Last year, he looked competitive in week-long races but he fell away after the first week of the Vuelta. White believes that the pint-sized climber needs to get back to basics, and cannot fall back on the virus that wrecked his 2018 season as an excuse.
"I don't think so," White said when asked if Chaves' lack of results could be pinned on the virus. "No. We can't use that as an excuse anymore. That was three years ago. He's 100 per cent healthy and there are no excuses. He needs to perform and he needs to step up and deliver for us."
Asked if Chaves could at this point be relied upon for GC results in Grand Tours, White said: "No. It's been five years since he's done GC at a Grand Tour. When he's on form, he's a world-class climber. If he can get back to that form and to winning, that's the aim but GC in a Grand Tour, it hasn't worked out in the last few years.
"We'll take it one step at a time and that starts with winning stages in Grand Tours and the level that we know that he can reach. Right now he's trying to make the selection for the Tour team," White said.
Bling is back
While Team BikeExchange solidifies their Grand Tour plans, they also welcome back Michael Matthews, who left the team and spent the last four years at Sunweb. His return provides the Australian team with some much-needed ammunition in the Classics and sprints, and the 30-year-old will target Milan-San Remo, a selection of the cobbled Classics, and then Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as he goes in search of his first Monument win.
"Michael gives us a lot of opportunities to win in races where we didn't have that before. It's exciting to bring him back into the fold again. He comes into a Classics group and adds another dimension for us. We know how he operates and we know what works from the past. He's a guy who responds well to having a guy in his corner and a team that backs him 100 per cent. He didn't always have that over the last four years away from us.
"Before, when he was here, there was tension with Simon Gerrans but now when he goes to a lot of races he's the sole leader. He's going to go into Milan-San Remo, some of the Classics, Amstel Gold suits him, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as our leader, and he's going to thrive on it."
Matthews made the surprise return to BikeExchange despite having a contract with Team DSM, but his return is a huge opportunity for both him and his new team.
"He can still get better. He's still motivated," said White.
"In the past, he was coming up against [Peter] Sagan, and unfortunately he's now up against [Mathieu] van der Poel and [Wout] van Aert but Michael is the ultimate professional and I still think that he can improve.
"In the next couple of years what you might see is that it becomes harder for him to hit that top-end speed that he had a couple of years ago but his ability on climbs will only improve. So if you look at the Tour de France, for the first few days, they're perfect for him with two uphill finishes."
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