Simon Yates to apply Vuelta a España victory strategy to Giro d'Italia

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) (Image credit: Getty Images)

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is a saying that Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) plans on applying in full to the Giro d’Italia -  in other words to use what he learned from his only Grand Tour victory to date, in the  Vuelta a España  2018, to try to take another this October.

"In 2018 we aimed to take the leader's jersey very early, and race aggressively, but this race is three weeks long, and in the Vuelta we tried to say calm and take it as late as possible," Yates explained on Friday.

Yates was notably much less gung-ho than in his pre-Giro press conference of May 2019, where he pointed a finger at himself and said 'me' when asked about who had the status of top favourite and also said of his rivals that if he was in their shoes, "I would be scared, I'd be shitting myself." 

15 months on, the 28-year-old, whose Giro last year saw him struggle with inconsistent form to finish eighth, pointed a virtual finger at another Briton, Geraint Thomas (Ineos-Grenadiers) as the key reference point for this year's second Grand Tour of the season.

"You look at the World Championships," Yates said – where Thomas took a fourth place that could have been a medal had it not been for a missing Garmin.

"The other guys here are very strong TTers -  [Vincenzo] Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), [Jakob] Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team). But none of them are in the same class of TTers as Geraint. It's going to be difficult."

Yates own track record in the Giro chronos is very uneven - he delivered a storming performance last year in Bologna's opening test, taking second, but then failed to come up with the goods in the crunch stage nine TT, losing more than three minutes in the downpour on the road to San Marino.

For Saturday, the weather is set to be fine, which will be an advantage, but Yates is anything but optimistic about his chances in the opening 15-kilometre race against the clock.

"I'm expecting to lose time, it's literally the worst prologue I could imagine" he said afterwards. "I will have to make up time but where, your guess is as good as mine.

"Stage 2 could well see some small gaps open up, then we've got Etna on stage 3" – where he took the jersey in 2018, albeit on a different ascent.  "But you never know with this race, some days you think will be easy turn out not."

On the plus side, though, and deeper into the race, Yates'  Grand Tour time trialling is far from being the automatic Achilles heel some other star climbers have to endure. In the 2018 Vuelta at Torrelavega, he failed to lose the time that was expected and instead strengthened his grip on la roja of race leader, and in the Giro two years ago in the 34-kilometre tme trial in Rovereto, he was a respectable 94 seconds down on winner Rohan Dennis, again, boosting his chances of retaining the lead in the process.

"I did the recon. for the second one, it looks OK," Yates mused, "but I can only do my best, and the last one, I'll need to wait to see what the situation is by then. But time trialling's not my speciality I'm not somebody who can wait for the TT to make time. I'll have to try to do what I can."

If there is a kind of question mark over what Yates can do in the time trials, what worries him far less is the high altitude and the potential for cold weather in the third week. "It's going to be challenging for anybody, if somebody tells you they like racing in the snow, they're lying," he stated categorically. "But I'm comfortable racing in those conditions and we have great clothing sponsors so I'm very confident about that aspect I'm not concerned about altitude either because I live in Andorra, at altitude all year round."

Should Yates take pink, it would be one of the rare occasions where two brothers have both led in a Grand Tour in the same year, after Adam's four day spell in yellow this September.  So who is the strongest? 

"Depends on who you ask the question," Yates argued after saying how pleased he was for his sibling, when Adam led the Tour.

"I'd probably say me, and he'd probably say it's him. Maybe next year we'll see when he's changed teams."

For now, in any case, and for the next three weeks in Italy, Simon will be the Yates brother to watch.

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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.