Simon Yates: I'm the number one favourite for the Giro d'Italia

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) threw down the gauntlet with a vengeance in his pre-Giro d'Italia press conference, stating categorically that he is in top condition to win his second consecutive Grand Tour. If he was in his rivals' position, he said, "I would be scared, I’d be shitting myself."

Yates has significant unfinished business with the Giro d’Italia, having lost the race whilst in pink and almost within sight of the final stage in Rome last year. But the Briton was in no mood for doubt on Friday afternoon, saying, in no uncertain terms, that he was certain of his chances of fighting for success.

"I’ve been thinking about this race for almost 12 months, I’m very focused, I’m been very dedicated towards it," he said.

When asked who was the number one favourite for the Giro d’Italia, Yates pointed one finger at himself and stated, in an utterly deadpan voice: "Me."

As for why he had opted to stand out in another way and be the only top favourite to have a late start in Saturday's opening time trial, with thunderstorms forecast in Bologna, Yates seemed equally confident.

"The weather is just a prediction, nobody really knows," he stated, with the same laconic certainty as Bob Dylan when the singer uttered his famous line that "you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows".

"Now I will also know the exact times of my rivals so I can also work around that and plan a strategy," he added.

As for whether he would change his bike during the time trial to tackle the final climb on a lighter model, Yates’ answer was scant on detail but clear on message: "No."

The 26-year-old, who won three stages at last year's Giro before his race imploded on stage 19, hinted he would dial back his aggressive display of 12 months ago. "This year’s Giro lends itself to being conservative in the beginning," he said. "The hardest part of the race is at the end. We have an idea how to approach these races now."

Yates also confirmed his plan for the next three years, as revealed in an interview with Rouleur magazine earlier this month, to go for the Giro win this year, the Olympics in 2020 and the Tour de France in 2021. "I like to plan ahead," he said, "set goals and targets, and yes, I’ll do everything I can to try and achieve those goals."

The perennial question mark about Yates' time trialling has yet to disappear in the minds of some, it seems, despite the Briton’s solid showing in last year’s Giro time trial, his equally respectable performance in the Vuelta’s long TT, and his stage win at Paris-Nice in March.

"It’s true that [Primoz] Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) will have an advantage, but I’ve been working very hard on the time trialling and the last one I did, I won," Yates argued.

The other big difference compared to 2018, of course, is that Yates has won a Grand Tour, taking away a victory in the Vuelta a España in the teeth of some much-vaunted opposition from Movistar.

"We have the same plan as the Vuelta and I came out on top," Yates said. "So we’ll approach this one in a similar way."

The other difference, too, for Mitchelton-Scott is that Esteban Chaves makes his return to Grand Tour racing after his rollercoaster Giro d’Italia last year. But the Colombian is now purely in a support role, as he confirmed on Friday.

"I think some day I will be back at my 2016 level" - where he finished on the podium of the Giro - "but not this time round," Chaves said. "My only goal here is to support Simon."

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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.