Yates was considered a second-tier contender on the eve of the 2018 Giro. Now, he’s one of the top favorites to win, a byproduct of his three stage wins at the 2018 Giro and his Vuelta a España overall victory
Yates’s accolades from last season also bring more pressure and expectations this year.
“In a way I have unfinished business at the Giro, but I would just like to have another go,” Yates said Monday. “We were so close last year, so I’m motivated to give it another go and I’m trying to arrive in the best shape possible to try and do that.”
The newfound status could completely shift Yates’s game plan for the Giro. Last year, Yates spent the first two weeks on the attack, looking to gain small margins on Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin before the individual time trial on stage 16.
The tactic seemed to work well until Yates cracked while wearing the pink jersey under attacks from eventual winner Froome on the Colle della Finestre on stage 19. Yates ran out of gas and tumbled to 21st overall.
That was a humbling experience, and he took those lessons into last year’s Vuelta. He raced more tactically, though a bit less spectacularly, to win his first grand tour.
Yates’s success from 2018 means he can no longer fly under the radar at the Giro. The other GC contenders are unlikely to give him a leash on the climbs. Yates admitted he might have to race more conservatively during the Giro, rather than attack every time the road tilts uphill.
“I like to race aggressively, but you can’t always do that unfortunately, and that’s what I really learned from last season,” Yates said. “I will apply those lessons and hopefully come off with the win.”
Yates will start Saturday in Bologna as a front-line GC contender. The team is ready to apply lessons learned from last year’s Giro that could see Yates racing less aggressively but more tactically.
“We’re heading to Italy with the aim of finishing off the job this year,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “That may mean we don’t win as many stages, but we’re looking at the bigger prize. We’re 12 months on from the last edition, we’ve learned a lot in those 12 months, and our job is to put that to good use across the three weeks of racing.”
The 2019 Giro d’Italia again packs a serious punch in the second half, with the opening week containing predominantly flat and hilly stages. The race’s three individual time trials also cater to climbers like Yates—all three are held on hilly terrain.
“The thing that stands out in the first 12 stages is that there are no major climbs to really test the GC guys,” said White, citing the longer distances of some of the early stages. “Because the Giro will be won in the second half, it’s about conserving energy and being efficient as a team in the first half of the race.
“If there’s ever a Giro that you could ride into, this would be this one,” he continued. “But in saying that, some of our biggest rivals have shown they are in very good shape already, so there’ll be some tests early on, but nothing definitive.”
Yates has shown hints of promising form all season, but he is not barnstorming into this Giro like he did last year. In 2018, Yates won stages in both Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya prior to the Giro. So far in 2019, he’s also managed to win two races, however he has not put pressure on himself to ride for GC.
The team is betting that slow-but-steady approach will pay off during the final hard week of the Giro. Instead of running out of gas, Yates is hoping to be hitting the most decisive stages with a nearly full tank.
“We start directly with a prologue, so we will know how everyone’s form is there,” Yates said “If I can race aggressively, like I would do normally, that’s how I would like to race because that’s what I enjoy, but we’ll have to see once we get there.”
Mitchelton-Scott for 2019 Giro d’Italia: