Giro d'Italia

Final week hero: Could Yates do a Froome?

Simon Yates was the victim of a final week ambush in the 2018 Giro. This year, he's the most likely candidate to instigate such a move

CLUSONE, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia is renowned for its surprise endings.

From Vincenzo Nibali’s late-race comeback in 2016 to last year’s raid over the Finestre by Chris Froome, the recent editions of the Italian grand tour have delivered some of cycling’s most unscripted finales.

Is there someone poised to pull the cat out of the hat this year?

Some are looking to Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who started in Bologna as the hot favorite but has gone cold in the middle part of the race. The defending Vuelta a España champion is hoping to heat things up just in time in the final week of the Giro.

At more than five minutes behind pink jersey Richard Carapaz (Movistar), Yates knows he has nothing to lose.

“At least things are going in the right direction,” Yates said. “I feel better, and I just hope it stays that way.”

Yates came into this Giro supremely confident that he was going to make up for his mistakes of 2018, when he was on the wrong end of the Froome raid.

After winning the Vuelta and preparing meticulously for the Giro, Yates was sure he was going to light up the race. So much so that he made an off-the-cuff comment that his rivals should be “sh***tting themselves” based on how good he felt.

Those comments quickly went viral, and Yates has been at the butt of jokes and wry comments ever since. Even now, as he’s starting to feel like himself again, he’s shy about waving his own flag.

“We still have a hard final week,” he said. “I will not start making claims that I’m back or anything again now, because everyone was a bit pissed off at me then.”

After a great start, just 19 seconds off Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) in the opening day time trial, the wheels unexpectedly spun off the cart during the San Marino time trial. On a day when he hoped to finish within a minute or so of standard-bearer Roglic, Yates gave up more than three minutes. A crash a few days earlier didn’t help, but no one knew why he went so poorly.

“I’m still searching for an answer,” he said. “We don’t know yet either.”

Stung by the setbacks, the team vowed to keep fighting.

“We’ve worked too hard just to give up,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “The Giro is so long anything can still happen.”

Looking to stay in the race, Yates took his lumps and kept pushing the pedals.

After languishing in 24th at 5:36 back after the time trial, Yates is quietly showing signs of life. He rode with the GC group into Pinerolo but then got dropped on the climb to Lago Serrù. The next day, he darted clear of the GC group — which let him go in part because he was so far back —  to finish second behind Carapaz. He sprinted to third Sunday in Como, snatching a few more seconds.

“I wasn’t able to go over my limit and really recover,” Yates said of his legs. “They are just working now, instead of not working. I have a bit of freedom to try some things.”

By the time the dust had settled on the GC during Monday’s rest day, Yates was eighth overall at 5:24 back.

Reinvigorated by a solid couple days of racing, Mitchelton-Scott is quietly optimistic it can still salvage something from the Giro.

“I think we can still win a stage here and climb our way up the GC,” White said. “Where to, who knows.”

Yates was on the receiving end last year when Froome uncorked a long-range attack over the Colle delle Finestre on the Giro’s penultimate mountain stage to wrestle away the pink jersey.

Last year, Yates looked to be on cruise control, only to crack in the Giro’s closing stages.

Could the same thing be happening to Roglic? Despite a wobble Sunday, Roglic is still ahead of all his main GC rivals, except Carapaz.

“When people see a weakness in Roglic, they are going to attack him,” White said. “He was the strongest guy at the start of the race. He is still going very good. I don’t see that as a crack [Sunday]; he had some bad luck. They managed very well what could have been a disaster with a 40-second time loss.”

With four hard mountain stages and a time trial to go, the Giro remains prime for the picking. Roglic and Carapaz have emerged as the two riders of reference, but there are a half-dozen riders who could still win.

Backed by the experienced Movistar team, Carapaz carries pink into Tuesday’s key stage over the Mortirolo. Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué even called Roglic the Giro’s “virtual” leader, citing the Slovenian’s strong time trial skills. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is lurking in third, with the steady presence of Rafa Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) rounding out the top-6.

White said he sees similar fatigue and exposure setting in across the Giro peloton to produce the same conditions that Froome was able to exploit last year.

“Guys are getting tired,” White said. “It’s the end of a very hard two weeks, and the long kilometers and the [bad] weather for the first two weeks is catching up with people.

“There are some chinks in guys’ armors,” White said. “You can see the cream is rising to the top. This Giro is far from over.”

Yates is feeling better and his rivals can see it. When Yates tried to attack early in stage 14, Roglic was all over him. His rivals don’t want him to ride back into the race.

So long as he’s not a direct threat, rivals will let him gain a few seconds here and there. If he gets too close, he’ll have to drop the likes of Roglic, Nibali and Carapaz.

For Yates to conjure up a turnaround in this Giro, he’ll have to do something as spectacular as Froome did last year.

Yates promises to go down swinging.

“I don’t have anything to lose now,” Yates said. “I feel better. I just hope it stays that way.”