Simon Yates was perhaps considered an outsider for the overall victory at the start of the 2018 Giro d'Italia but a few hours before the hugely important Trento time trial, where he will fight to limit his losses to Tom Dumoulin in the hope of retaining the maglia rosa, the 25-year-old continues to exude self-confidence, giving the impression that he is in control of his own destiny and even enjoying trying to win his first Grand Tour.
"This is what I wanted to do when I turned professional, it's what I've been working toward from the beginning," the Mitchelton-Scott rider said calmly and simply, during the final rest day of the race in Trento after studying the time trial course in the morning.
Yates has followed a careful training plan and race calendar to be at his very best at the Giro d'Italia. He was already on form at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya but then spent time at home in Andorra, taking advantage of the altitude to work even more on his Grand Tour climbing ability.
He was the best young rider and finished seventh overall at the 2017 Tour de France. The 2018 Giro d'Italia was an achievable and logical next goal.
"I am getting a bit older, a bit stronger - I'm more confident every year," Yates explained.
"The team knows how I work and how we do things, so small little things are coming together. I'm also learning from past mistakes with regards to training. I'm also watching my weight; it's the best it's ever been. I think was never that far away from being up there in the Grand Tours, especially in the last year or two, so the small changes make a difference.
"Am I'm surprised to be sitting here with the advantage I have? Yes but to be sitting here, no. I arrived here from the beginning to win the race. I don't underestimate what I am doing at the Giro d'Italia, I'm know I am doing a great job, I wouldn't say I'm surprised."
Yates' rivals have been left asking why he is so consistently strong while they suffer and fall by the wayside. Yates inner calm and growing self-confidence is at least part of his reason. So is his pragmatism.
"I'm relaxed, I feel good, if I blow up and explode in final week, or lose five minutes tomorrow, that's fine, really fine. I'm happy with what I've done. I came to the Giro d'Italia to win but if I can't, that's okay, I won't lose sleep. I want to be the best I can be, but if this is the max, then that's okay too."
Yates has gradually won over the Italian media and Italian tifosi. It seems Italy has had an impact on Yates. His very British self-control cracked on the podium after his win in Sappada. He shed a tear on the podium and was clearly emotional afterwards.
"I've not raced that much in Italy, I am really enjoying my time here, for now it's really been a great race," he said.
"There's been a little bit of a poker face and people don't see my 200 heart rate when I am attacking, I'm really suffering inside."
Yates has raced largely on the defensive so far in his Grand Tour career but at this Giro d'Italia he has been the most aggressive and the most successful, winning three stages in the maglia rosa and pushing out is overall lead on Dumoulin to 2:11. He has clearly stepped up and his rivals have been unable to take him on, while the Mitchelton-Scott team have controlled the peloton thanks to their strength and balance.
"Now it is because I have the legs to do something," Yates argued. "It's not rocket science, now I have arrived in great shape, and there is no one really setting such a hard tempo to attack. It's only the main guys, only a few select teammates who can push the pace, it opens up the race.
"l like to be aggressive, but sometimes it's not possible. If Team Sky are riding at a tempo that is too fast and no one can attack, it's simply not possible to attack."
Asked if then Team Sky are weaker at the Giro d'Italia and if that was in his favour, Yates said simply: "Yes."
Facing up to the outcome of the time trial
Yates will start last in the individual 34.2km time trial from Rovereto to Trento, three minutes after world time trial champion Tom Dumoulin. He is hoping his lead of 2:11 will allow him to retain the maglia rosa for another day.
In the opening Jerusalem time trial Yates lost just 20 seconds in 9.7km. However, he is the first to admit the two courses are very different.
"I did half of the course out of the saddle, sprinting up those short climbs. Tomorrow you are always in the skis, always in aero position; it's a very different course. That is why I am not confident about tomorrow," he said, refusing to estimate a possible time loss to Dumoulin.
"I don't know… I'll do the best I can. I'm expecting to lose a lot, that's why I've been so aggressive, to try to take time," he explained.
"Tom is the one who will take the most time out of me. There are other guys Pinot and Pozzovivo is no slouch. I'm one of the weaker time trialists here among the GC guys. I'm expecting to lose time, I knew that even before we started the race."
Whatever verdict the clock gives on Tuesday afternoon, Yates will continue to race aggressively until the final road stage in central Rome on Sunday evening.
"If I keep it, happy days and then we'll defend to Rome," he said making Grand Tour racing sound very simple.
"If I lose it, it'll be same as what you've seen already. I'll throw in the kitchen sink. I'll really try to take it back if I do lose it. We have the team to do it. Of course, it'll be interesting. I would prefer not to lose it."
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