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Simon Yates limits the damage in opening Giro d'Italia TT

PALERMO ITALY OCTOBER 03 Simon Yates of The United Kingdom and Team Mitchelton-Scott Duomo di Monreale Monte Caputo Cathedral during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Stage 1 a 151km Individual Time Trial stage from Monreale to Palermo ITT girodiitalia Giro on October 03 2020 in Palermo Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images
Simon Yates of Team Mitchelton-Scott on course made tricky by the wind in opening Giro stage (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

After Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had done a recon of the Palermo time trial which opened this year’s Giro d’Italia, he said it could not be worse for him. But after keeping the gaps to a minimum on leading general classification favourite Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Yates pessimism was clearly misplaced.

Once the dust had settled in Palermo on Saturday, it emerged that Yates had lost 26 seconds on the Welshman, an important enough hit perhaps. But it was far less serious than the time shipped by other GC riders like Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), who are more than a minute behind Thomas and the race has hardly begun.

Capable of producing some solid results in time trials and the occasional shocker like in the Giro d’Italia last year at San Marino, Yates was cautious about his result this time. He pointed out that “this was 15 kilometres and the race is long. But it’s hopefully a good start.

“I did what I could, it’s not a course that’s good for me and it was tricky out there. There was a lot of wind, and that’s actually more of a challenge than how much you can produce.

“The problem is on the big boulevard. That’s when you get the really big gusts of wind and that’s the part that throws you,” Yates added about the crucial middle section of the course.

Asked if it was a dangerous course, as faller Victor Campenaerts (NTT Pro Cycling) said, Yates gave an even-handed answer, arguing that while there were some hazards, all the riders at one point or another had to get through them as best they could.

“We all did the recon. I saw there was some slippy oil, and I also slipped,” Yates said. “It’s a risk-and-reward situation, or whatever the saying is. This was his [Campenaerts] one shot at taking the jersey here in the Giro. Sometimes you’ve got to take a risk, sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. We all do the same course and it is what it is.”

From Yates’ point of view, what influenced more in the different results riders produced, rather than disk wheels in windy conditions, was the choice between “committing to the skis” - the time trial aerobars  - or not.

“It’s like I said before, if you don’t want to risk it and use a slower wheel, be my guest. I don’t think it’s the disc wheel that’s really the problem, it’s dealing with the skis, that’s the most dangerous part,” Yates said. “You don’t have the leverage you have being on the hoods or on the drops, you really tighten the squeeze and that’s more of a difference.

“A lot of guys went with a 60 chainring, if I pushed one of those, that’s 110 rpm, we’re going really fast and I’m probably not pedalling anyway at that point.

“I really like to keep a lot of the same equipment throughout the years so I know the feeling of the bike, so I stayed to what I am used to,” he said.

To judge from the performance that Yates was capable of producing, his strategy proved to be exactly the right one. Better yet for the Briton, after such a strong ride on a course that did him no favours, on Monday when the race reaches Etna, Yates will likely be feeling very confident indeed about his chances of striking back in the Giro's GC battle.

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, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.