Simon Yates and his BikeExchange team have kept a low profile so far in the Giro d'Italia, sitting in the peloton and trying to limit any time losses in an apparent plan to save themselves for the more decisive second and third weeks.
Yates is 56 seconds down on race leader Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), losing a few seconds on each of the early mountain stages, but he remains upbeat if somewhat reserved about his overall hopes.
"I'm there or thereabouts. I'd prefer to be close to the top guys but I'm doing my best. Hopefully, there's more to come," Yates said in an audio file sent out by the BikeExchange team rather than facing direct questions from the media.
Yates started the Giro d'Italia as a leading favourite after an impressive victory at the Tour of the Alps. He won the 2018 Vuelta a España and is one of only three riders in the race with a Grand Tour on his palmares - Bernal and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) are the others. Yet he has lacked spark on the steep finishes in Sestola, San Giacomo and Campo Felice, where he was expected to shine.
The Briton blew up in 2018 after leading the Giro d'Italia for two weeks and so his cautious approach seems logical. He suggests his time loss is due to the variable weather in the first 10 days more than anything else.
"I think the main challenge has been the ever-changing conditions of the race. A lot of the hardest stages have come with big weather changes and that's affected a lot of guys in different ways," Yates said, without explaining if or how it had affected him.
"We had the gravel climb a few days ago which also means a lot of things changed in the final of the race. But I think the gaps are still quite small. I'm still within a minute of the lead, which I think is good after 10 stages."
Yates is 56 seconds down on Bernal, 42 down on Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), 34 behind Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and 19 behind Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo). In contrast, Nibali, George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) are already out of contention and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) has crashed out.
Yates is happy to still be in contention, even if he knows he has work to do and time to pull back in the high mountains.
"The guys who are there are the guys who I expected. We've lost a few through crashes or guys who have suffered in the changing weather conditions but they are the riders who I expected to be there," Yates said of his GC rivals.
"I think it'll take a lot of aggressive racing (to win the Giro). The gaps are still quite small, the top 10 is within a minute so far but that can change very quickly on any stage now.
"I hope to come out of the rest day feeling good so that I can try to regain some time. I know I'll need a little bit of a buffer going into the time trial if I'm to win this Giro."
Yates is looking forward to climbing high and long in the real mountains, starting with the Zoncolan on Saturday. First, he has to make it through the dirt road stage to Montalcino on Wednesday.
He studied the stage on the way to the start of the Giro d'Italia but as a pure climber, with little off-road experience, he is logically concerned about the 35km of dirt roads, the steep Eroica climbs and the very technical descents.
While the sport is excited about the stage, Yates is not.
"I'd prefer not to have a stage like this in a Grand Tour, there's a place for a one-day race like Strade Bianche but in a stage race I don't think it has a place, there's too much risk involved," he argued.
"Even the guys who are good on the gravel and not afraid of it can still have a puncture or a crash and it affects the GC. But we've got good equipment and I'm not afraid of the stage, I just hope to pass without incident."
The Zoncolan is far more appealing.
"When I look at the profile of the rest of the Giro, I think that's the first real climb where we'll see some differences," he suggested.
"A lot of the climbs so far have been fast and the selection has only been made in the very finale of the climbs. There's nowhere to hide on the Zoncolan. It was a very hard climb in 2018 (when Yates was in the leader's pink jersey). We do the other side of the climb this year. I don't know the climb personally but for sure it'll be hard."
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