Heading into his fifth corsa rosa after debuting in 2018, Yates would like to change things up. In an interview in the latest BikeExchange-Jayco mini-documentary “On the Wheel,” Yates indicated that he would like to focus more on the Tour de France in the future.
Speaking to VeloNews on Thursday, he talked about how he would like a “change in pace” from recent seasons.
“I’ve been back five times now. I’ve put a lot into this race, and It’s given me a lot of back as well,” Yates told VeloNews in a call. “It’s just a general feeling. You never know what happens in the future, but my feeling is maybe I would like to try something different in future years.
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“I’ve just been told I got a couple of gray hairs coming. I must be getting quite old now if the gray hairs are starting to show. I still feel quite young and I’m still enthusiastic about riding in the sport. I don’t feel I’m slowing down or anything, but I just want to have a change of pace, a bit of change in atmosphere, and just try some different races.”
Yates’ relationship with the Giro d’Italia has been a little love-hate over the years.
After the disappointment of flaming out of the GC while in the pink jersey in 2018, he bounced back the following year to take eighth overall. He failed to finish in 2020 after testing positive for COVID-19 midway through the grand tour but scored a career-best third-place the following year.
With a very open field set to ride in Italy this May, there’s a good chance that Yates can improve on his third spot from 2021. Training has been going well in recent weeks following a stint at altitude, but it’s hard to know just how well he’s going until he tests himself in racing, which he’s doing at this weekend’s three-day Vuelta a Asturias.
His dominant win on the opening stage would seem to indicate he’s going well, though the field will be very different at the Giro.
“It depends how you look at it. The numbers are looking good, but that’s not always a good indicator for the races. In the past, I’ve had really good numbers in training and then not been so good in the racing,” he said.
“This is going a bit back in time, but I had a really good winter. I didn’t have any illnesses or injuries, or any setbacks, and the weather was really good. I was training properly and that’s really helped me going forward. I had this setback after Catalunya but, because I’ve done so much good work over the winter, I felt like I bounced back quite quickly. Whereas in the past there have been a few niggles here and there.”
After a strong start to the season where he scored fifth overall at the Ruta del Sol and then second at Paris-Nice, including victory in the final stage, Yates’ campaign hit a bump in the road. Like many in the peloton, he fell ill after the “Race to the Sun.”
He thought he was over it but then had to pull out of the Volta a Catalunya a few weeks later as it lingered on.
“It definitely was not COVID, I did many tests PCRs and rapid tests,” he said. “I think it was just some sort of bronchitis. I’m not a doctor so I don’t know, but maybe it’s just because we’ve been wearing masks for two years and our immune systems a little bit suppressed. It really got me and knocked me down quite a bit.
“I was going to have a break after Catalunya anyway, so it didn’t change much, except it was a little bit complicated with the length of time it took to get over it. I missed a bit of training at the start of the block I was going to do, but I don’t think it’s had too much of an effect.”
A traditional Giro and fighting the cold
After Yates put in the time trial of his life at Paris-Nice earlier this year, finishing fifth and just 11 seconds behind Wout van Aert, he may be a little disappointed with the dearth of kilometers against the clock at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Riders will only have to be on their TT bikes for just 26.3 kilometers over the three weeks compared to the eight big mountain stages.
“The Giro is always hard. Has there ever been an easy Giro? When you look at the course, I mean, it’s very climbing heavy this year, which would normally, normally suit me but the only time trial I did this year was actually quite good. It’s one of those really,” Yates said.
“[The Verona time trial] is a hard TT and we have a nine K TT in Hungary as well, but that’s a really short test. I don’t believe there’ll be big gaps. I don’t know exactly, of course, but I think the gaps will be minimal with the TT stuff. I think the race is going to be won or lost on the road.”
Yates’ performance at last year’s Giro d’Italia was a bit of a mixed bag. On some days he looked like the strongest in the pack and on others he struggled behind the GC contenders. One of the main factors for his rollercoaster race was the struggles he had in cold weather.
He said he hasn’t done anything specific to try and get better in those conditions but takes confidence from how he performed in the torrid conditions on the final Paris-Nice stage in March.
“What can you do? I mean, I can wear a few extra clothes when it comes but I mean, I live in Andorra anyway where it’s quite cold all the time. We’ll just have to hope that it’s a nice race,” Yates told VeloNews.
“It’s just one of those things that you have to deal with as the race goes on. I won the last stage of Paris-Nice and that was raining and cold. It was zero degrees at the top of one of the climbs there. In that regard, sometimes I can deal with it. But it just depends on the day and maybe the choice of clothing.”
Over the next few months, and not just at the Giro d’Italia, Yates and his team will be haunted by the spectre of potential relegation from the WorldTour.
BikeExchange-Jayco is one of the teams fighting for survival after a difficult couple of seasons and the points earned at the Giro d’Italia will be key in keeping them in the all-crucial top-18.
“Personally, I’m not too focused on it. Of course, it keeps coming up more and more, but I think if we just continue to do our best as a team that should be okay,” he said. “I don’t know what else we can do at this point. It’s same for everybody, but I also don’t really agree with the way the points are distributed because some small races are worth the same as winning a Giro or Tour stage, which are obviously not comparable, but they’re worth the same point.
“In that regard, I don’t think it’s a very good system, but that’s the system that we’re in so we’re going have to deal with it the best way we can. And I don’t know another way over them to do our best.”