Mitchelton-Scott head into the 2019 Tour de France with Adam Yates as sole team leader for the overall classification. The 26-year-old British rider is hoping improve on his fourth place from 2016. Adam's twin brother Simon Yates enters the race as super-domestique for the tough final week. European champion Matteo Trentin and Daryl Impey receive some freedom to hunt for stage wins along the way.
"Goal number one for us is to chase one jersey: yellow. I put in a group of 5 or 6 riders. It's probably the most open editions of the Tour. We want to get him as high up in GC as we can. It's the strongest and most versatile group, with the most depth we ever had. We're not concentrating on the sprints. Stage hunting will come along the way, " team manager Matthew White said after introducing each of his eight riders.
Among them were the Yates twins. When walking towards their seats, Simon politely offered the seat in the middle to Adam while intentionally moving to the far end of the table. "Simon is here as a super domestique, returning the favour for the Vuelta. He'll be looking to support at the back end of the race. It's a very tough back end, probably the toughest ever in the modern era. Having Simon here is a big bonus for the team," White said.
Adam Yates did most of the speaking, explaining that his brother was uncertain to start the Tour after finising eighth in the Giro d'Italia where he finished eighth. "A couple of weeks ago he wasn't 100 per cent sure but he's here and I'm glad he made it. He has a similar role to mine in the Vuelta. Over there, you didn't see me until the final week. Hopefully, it'll be similar. I didn't have much of a say in the team. On paper, it's the strongest team I've ever been to the Tour with. In other years there's sometimes too many climbers or too many big guys but this year the balance is perfect," Yates said.
Back in 2016, Yates finished fourth in his second-ever Tour de France, cracking the podium in Paris as the best young rider of the race. Last year he finished 29th in his third Tour. "2016 was a fantastic year for me. It was the first time I targeted the Tour. I came pretty close to the podium there; I was 20 seconds away from the podium. In general, every year I'm getting better. This year specifically I'm very consistent. I'd like to do better than fourth, I guess," he said.
Last year at the Tour, he struggled with the heat and ended up riding a disappointing race. "The team and I learned a lot. We made changes that have great efficiency."
This time around, Yates has shown great consistency throughout the season. "Last year there were lots of close calls and lots of crashes. Now I'm not just consistent with GC but also with winning stages. It gives a lot of confidence." Back in February, Yates already scored a stage win at the Volta a Valenciana and ended up finishing eighth overall. Two weeks later he finished fifth overall in the Ruta Del Sol. In March he twice finished as runner-up, first in the Tirreno-Adriatico where his team won the team time-trial and then in the Volta a Catalunya where he also won a stage. Shortly after that, he won the final stage of the Basque Country stage race where he won the final stage. He concluded the first part of his season by narrowly finishing off the podium in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"I had a small break after Liège. I had a week off. Then I carried on where I left off, being there on climbing stages in the Dauphiné but I had a little hiccup towards the end there," Yates said. He had to leave the race because of illness while being second overall. "I guess it was a stomach bug that I caught in the previous day when it rained a lot," Yates said. "I raced the same guys all year long. I'd be very surprised if someone makes a big step. You don't race all the week-long races or one-day races at 80 per cent; you race them at 100 per cent," Yates told Cyclingnews on Friday afternoon.
Yates didn't use another approach towards the races or training this season. "Not really. I've not had any mistakes, real consistent, no hiccups. If you miss one day here, one day there then it doesn't matter. But if you start messing things up, or commitment is getting away then it can really bother your training," Yates said. When asked what a commitment problem could be, for example getting drunk in a bar, Yates laughed. "That's not really my style but it could be anything. It could be even media commitments. You can get sick or injured. One of the main problems last year is that I broke my pelvis. This ripped the flow of my training. This year, so far, no problems," Yates said.
The course of the 2019 Tour de France suits the man from Bury a lot. Just like many other GC-riders he liked the removal of the countless flat stages that suit the teams with sprinters. "The first major test for the team is the TTT. The last one, we won, in Tirreno. For me personally, the first test is the mountain finish at La Planche des Belles Filles. A couple of years I didn't live too far away so I know the climb quite well. We'll get an idea of who's going well and how you're climbing yourself. Stage 6 is going to be the first real challenge," he said.
Regarding the final week, Yates said that for some reason he had never been or raced in the area. "The stages I didn't know are 18, 19 20. For some reason, I've never been there so before the Dauphiné my girlfriend and I went to Val d'Isère. She was in the car and even rode some climbs herself, providing me with info. We had a good time," he said, also explaining that he's lucky enough not to suffer from the altitude as the race hits multiple climbs of more than 2 000 metres.
"In the past it never really bothered me. I've been a lot on altitude. It affects everybody differently. Everybody suffers," Yates said. While talking, it didn't go unnoticed that despite living in France for a couple of years, he clearly focused on mastering his climbing rather than mastering the language. "I knew my French but it's gone," Yates apologized. A daily passage in front of French tv while wearing the maillot jaune might be the best way to learn it again, an experienced Belgian journalist suggested.
Back to the key question on Friday afternoon. How to recognise from Simon? Teammate Luke Durbridge advised to keep an eye on their shoes. "We don't know either. Adam is red, Simon is blue," Durbridge said. Press officer Taryn Kirby confirmed. "Adam rides with red shoes, all season long."
"The team knows and we know. The chin is an indicator too," Simon Yates said, referring to the scar that he sports on his chin. The twin brothers themselves surely are bored with the question but still seemed to have some fun in leaving others wondering.