Is Simon Yates the peloton’s forgotten grand tour winner?
Sometimes it feels that way.
With the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič taking up much of the grand tour oxygen, it seems some people forget Yates is just one of six active riders who’ve won a major three-week stage race since 2018.
No one’s forgetting that inside the Team BikeExchange bus.
The Aussie team is riding into the 2021 Giro d’Italia full of confidence, with all eyes on the ultimate prize — the maglia rosa.
“Simon is in a good place at the moment,” BikeExchange sport director Matt White told VeloNews. “Everyone loves to harp on about 2018, and the fact that he didn’t win the Giro that year. People forget that he won the Vuelta a few months later, and ended the season ranked No. 1 in the world.”
Yet going into this year’s first grand tour, Yates isn’t seeing marquee billing among the pre-race favorites.
Riders like Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) seem to be drawing early pre-race hype. Officials confirmed Monday that Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) will race.
That’s just fine for everyone inside the Team BikeExchange organization.
Victory at the Tour of the Alps against a fleet of riders he will be facing this month only fuels the team’s quiet confidence.
“We’ve made mistakes over the years, but you learn from those mistakes, and it makes you more resilient,” White said in a telephone call. “We’re going into the Giro with good support around him, and we won the dress rehearsal. Let’s see if we can go out and win it.”
Also read: Simon Yates wins Tour of the Alps
The team confirmed its “Giro Eight” on Monday, with a strong mix of experienced veterans and climbing aces to support Yates across all terrain.
“I hope this year I can have clear run and a good go at fighting for the win and we have a very strong team to try to do that,” Yates said Monday. “The team we have for the race is most of the team that we had at the Tour of the Alps and we really gelled well together there.”
Much is still being made of the 2018 Giro, one of the most exciting grand tours in recent years.
That edition saw Chris Froome‘s tremendous solo attack over the Colle delle Finestre as he soloed into the pink jersey, fending off a chasing Tom Dumoulin in an epic stage that saw Yates collapse under the onslaught.
Yates wrote it off as a lesson learned, and bounced back later that summer to win the Vuelta.
Yates packed bravado into the 2019 Giro, and despite hitting a solid eighth overall, left some underwhelmed. He carried momentum into the 2019 Tour de France, winning two stages.
Some might write him off as a one-time winner, but everyone inside the Team BikeExchange organization knows that they have one of the most consistent grand tour riders in the peloton.
The feeling is that the best is yet to come for Yates, with the expectation that he is stronger, smarter, more experienced and more dangerous.
Also read: Playing chasing game against time trialists
Despite his perceived weakness against the clock, Yates worked hard to improve his position and efficiency on the time trial bike. White said the hope is that the time trials do not tip the scale too far against his team this year.
“We won’t be racing the same tactic as 2018,” White said. “We did that because we didn’t know Simon’s level against some of the best time trialists in the world. Those guys like Froome, Dumoulin and Roglič, they’re not going to the Giro. We have adjusted the tactics this year, based on our own strength, the course, and who we have to beat.”
Like the 2018 Giro, this year’s “corsa rosa” opens with a time trial stage, this time on the urban streets of Torino on Saturday. Unlike 2018, when the second time trial came in the second half of the race, this year’s final TT is on the closing stage.
Conventional wisdom says that the specialists won’t have as much as an advantage at the ragged end of a grand tour, but the flat, 29.4km time trial into Milano will give any climber pause against any strong TT’er that might be hanging close on the final day.
“Among the main rivals, Remco is a world-class time trialer, and so is Almeida, but where the time trials are situated this year helps us,” White said. “We hope to not lose too much time in the first one. The last stage TT is not your normal time trial. If you got legs, you’ve got legs. It’s not as defining as a decent-sized, mid-race TT when everyone is still fresh.”
It's so close we can almost taste it!
— Team Jayco AlUla (@GreenEDGEteam) May 3, 2021
If the team already turned the page on the 2018 Giro, one chapter they’re hoping not to repeat again this year is what happened in the 2020 edition.
Yates was racing well in his approach to the Giro, winning Tirreno-Adriatico and hitting third at Tour de Pologne, when the wheels suddenly came off in the second week of the tour, and the Brit was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Everything was on track for the Giro, and he had a great TT, but 48 hours later, we started seeing chinks in his armor. We didn’t know what was going on,” White said. “We worked out that he had COVID-19, and that was the end of 2020.”
Also read: Simon Yates diagnosed with COVID-19
The team gave Yates plenty of space to recover, and he went into the off-season to recover without any pressure to return. Team doctors and specialists closely monitored his health and progress, and so far, it appears everything is going fine ahead of the Giro.
“We’ve done the best we can to prepare as a group,” White said. “We’re ready to take on the challenge to try to win another grand tour.”
Who are the names to beat? White rattles off a few of the usual suspects, and insists they’re not racing against any singular rider.
For the Aussie team during this Giro, there’s no hype, no pressure — just delivering when it counts.
Team BikeExchange for 2021 Giro d’Italia:
Michael Hepburn (AUS), 6th start
Chris Juul-Jensen (DEN), 6th start
Tanel Kangert (EST), 9th start
Cameron Meyer (AUS), 6th start
Mikel Nieve (SPA), 7th start
Nick Schultz (AUS), debut
Callum Scotson (AUS), debut
Simon Yates (GBR), 4th start
"I hope I can have clear run and a good go at fighting for the win." – @SimonYatess 🎙
— Team Jayco AlUla (@GreenEDGEteam) May 3, 2021