Tour de France stage hunt gets off to a complicated start for Simon Yates
Briton takes part in 29-rider breakaway but expends precious energy ahead of the Alps
Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) took part in his first Tour de France breakaway of 2021 on Friday but he made no bones afterwards about how what had seemed like a good idea at the time did not turn out at all well for him.
Yates formed part of the 29-rider day-long breakaway and stayed with the main move after Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious) and Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal) went clear. However, he was dropped from the chasing group on the crucial second category Signal D'Uchon and that was the end of his breakaway challenge.
Fourteenth at the finish, the Briton said later that the stage had not worked out well for several reasons. The escape itself had morphed from what he expected it to be into another beast altogether as the stage developed. On top of which, he has now spent too much energy before two Alpine stages this weekend that were better for him on paper.
"It was not really a good stage for me," Yates told ITV afterwards. "The climb was too short and too explosive. I was looking forward to tomorrow and the next day and now I'm really tired.
"I feel like I was trying to be there and have a presence for the team. But the stage turned into something completely different. So I just tried to do what I could but I came up a bit short."
Yates said he thought the move could have been doomed, with so many high-ranked GC racers in it. But, on the other hand, "a lot of the guys were committed and we had 30 guys there so there was a lot of momentum. We were going very fast, though I don't know what was happening behind, to be honest. I assume UAE were trying to chase."
Speaking to a small group of reporters at the stage start, Yates said he had not had as many issues physically, coming back into racing after the Giro d'Italia, as he has handling the mental aspect of it all.
"I was going all-in for the Giro GC and was fully focussed for three weeks and now I have to back it up three weeks later," he said. "That's the hardest thing for me."
Having switched from looking at the general classification in the Giro to stage wins in the Tour de France, Yates said that predicting whether the Alps would be more about the overall or about breakaways was impossible.
"I don't know and that's the hardest thing about targeting stages, not knowing what other teams have planned. Of the two stages, the one to Tignes is the one which suits me as it's an uphill finish. You have to take more risks on the descent on the day before and Sunday's a harder stage as well."
Having claimed third overall in the Giro d'Italia and livened up the third week with his attacks, it could be that Yates sees the Tour as the icing on a very large 2021 cake. But, having come through the first week without crashing, he aims for it to be more a re-run of 2019.
"The whole plan is to replicate two years ago. Top-10 in the Giro and then two stages in the Tour. If I can grab one here then that would be a success."
Regarding the GC battle as an outside observer, Yates says that "it is a cliche but it is Pogačar's to lose now. He showed he has the legs in the TT there, [winning] by a mile, so we'll see. It's going to be an interesting battle.
"It puts a lot of guys in a position where they have to try something and some of those guys don't normally do that. They're used to being more conservative and staying on the wheels. So it's going to be interesting from my point of view because I don't have to race them."
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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 Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.