Simon Yates plays down top favourite status for Giro d'Italia

Simon Yates at the 2021 Giro d'Italia team presentation
Simon Yates at the 2021 Giro d'Italia team presentation (Image credit: Giro d'Italia / Twitter)

Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) has brushed off suggestions that he is now the top favourite for victory in the Giro d’Italia following his impressive win in the Tour of the Alps.

Yates recent success in the arduous five-day stage race is arguably the most encouraging result of any taken by the top names participating in this year’s Giro. But the 28-year-old seemed to have no desire to use that triumph to give a public boost to his morale, arguing instead that he was about to do battle in a very different kind of arena in the Giro.

“The Alps has short stages and is a week long, the Giro is three weeks long. I wouldn’t read too much into that,” Yates said during a press conference on Thursday afternoon. “I’m happy with my condition and how the Alps went, but the Giro isn’t the same sort of race, we’ll have to take it as it comes.”

As for who else could be challenging for pink in the 2021 Giro, Yates was equally diplomatic, saying, “there are a lot of good riders here and I’m not going to name names. Everybody is coming here off different kinds of preparation, so there are lots of different people to watch.”

It was a notably less enthusiastic pre-Giro press conference than in 2019 in Bologna when the Briton was asked, after winning the Vuelta a España the previous autumn, whom he felt would be the top favourite and he pointed at his chest and answered “me.” That year, though, Yates failed to live up to expectations, including his own, when he finished a solid eighth overall, but without really impacting on the race.

Yates has had more than his share of bad luck in the Giro d’Italia, too. In 2018, he was unfortunate enough to lose the Giro when he was almost within sight of overall victory. In 2020, he contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus and had to quit, along with his team. Such repeated misfortune, you’d imagine, would make even the most naturally optimistic of riders a shade cautious about upping his or her chances.

Certainly, quite apart from refusing to get drawn into the favourites’ game, Yates was equally non-committal about what kind of strategy he would take to try and get the pink jersey, simply saying he “preferred to be wearing it in Milan. That’s the only goal. I can’t tell you how the rest will go.”

Had he learned lessons about being overly upbeat from the 2018 Giro? One journalist asked and Yates seemed to agree.

“You have to be calm and careful throughout the entire race. There are one or two tests early on in this year’s Giro, a harder second week, then it’s even harder in the third.” 

The only part of his tactics he was prepared to reveal was hardly a major shocker, he said he would “have to take some time before that final time trial. But we’ll stay calm and cautious and try to do our best.”

Now 28 and facing his 11th Grand Tour, on the plus side Yates recognised that both he and the team were getting more in tune with GC challenges as the years went by.

“I’m getting more experienced, I hope I’m learning how to work better. The team’s not really been targetting GC for that long compared to other squads,” he observed.

“We’ve got one of the strongest teams to control the race and they looked after me very well in Tour of the Alps, too. I have a lot of trust in them and that’s all I can ask for.”

Nor is it just the riders that Yates feels certain have his back 100 per cent. Each winter BikeExchange head director Matt White makes a point of driving the whole route of the upcoming Giro d’Italia for reconnaissance, and Yates always reaps the benefits of that.

“My coaches know almost the whole course, either by car or by bike,” he pointed out. “I’ve been to see a few of the stages in person, too ones like the gravel stage [stage 11]. I’m confident in the information we have.”

As for those stages where Yates could be most vulnerable, outside the mountains that are his greatest strength, the Briton recognised that the Giro’s time trials were “difficult for me personally,” but refused to see them as a total pitfall. 

“I will never be a specialist in those kinds of events but I have slowly been getting better,” he insisted and the 2018 Vuelta, where he kept all his main rivals at bay in the crucial Torrelavega time trial, is ample evidence to back the Briton up on that point. As for the gravel stage, Yates main motivation, he said, was “to avoid mishaps and splits.”

“A race like the Giro is always won in the third week. I know that from personal experience,” he concluded, having won the 2018 Vuelta in its final third and lost the Giro that May the same way. “And that’s why I need to be cautious and calm. You have to understand that this race is three weeks long, not one.”

Come what may for Simon Yates in the next month, one major difference is that he and his brother Adam are, for the first time in their careers, riding in different squads. But again, Simon refused to see that as a hugely significant game changer.

“Not really, we’re professional,” he answered. “But he did beat me in the Volta a Catalunya, just recently, so I’ll have to try and take one back in the future.”

First though, will come another crack at the Giro d’Italia.

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