In 2016, Yates avoided serious injury when an inflatable race archway at 1km to go suddenly deflated and fell on him in stage 7 at full sprint. In a display of grace under pressure, Yates shrugged it off and rode on to finish the stage en route to fourth overall.
Two years later, a cool and confident Yates is back at the Tour with the entire team at his disposal. In trademark composure, Yates says he’s ready for everything that comes with it.
“You can always expect something crazy at the Tour,” Yates said Friday. “People who know me know I am a pretty laid-back guy. I don’t let stuff get to me, not just in racing, but also in life. There’s no point in getting angry and having a fuss about it.”
In what will be his sixth grand tour start, Yates, 25, is taking it all in as expected: no fuss, no drama.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” he continued. “I know what I am doing. It’s about not making any stupid mistakes, and hopefully not having any bad luck. Then hopefully I can do something.”
Yates said during a conference call Friday he’s ready to assume team leadership responsibilities at the Tour. He rode to fourth and won the best young rider’s jersey in the 2016 Tour, but he admitted that was a surprise. This time, the expectations are nothing short of the Tour podium, and the pressure will be compounded.
“It’s a big honor,” Yates said of his protected status. “To go to the Tour de France as a team leader is a lot of pressure. It’s an opportunity, and we’ve got to take advantage of these opportunities when we can.”
In March, his season was thrown into doubt when he fractured his pelvis in a pile-up during the Volta a Catalunya. Luckily, the injury didn’t require surgery and he only missed 10 days of training. He returned to form at the Amgen Tour of California with fourth overall, and backed that up with a stage win and second at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Those results were enough to convince Mitchelton-Scott to throw all of its weight behind Yates and an all-in bid for what would be a franchise-first Tour de France podium.
The team’s somewhat surprising and controversial tactical choice meant that Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan would be left at home. With only eight spots per team in this year’s Tour, Ewan was the odd man out.
That decision rattled many and kicked up a media storm of controversy, but Yates isn’t going to let that faze him or lose focus on what’s in front of him.
“I am disappointed for Caleb,” said Yates referring to the eight-rider rule. “It’s more difficult for management to make a decision on the roster. We needed a couple of big guys for the flat stages. … This is how it is. At the end of the day, it doesn’t change much for me. There’s more pressure on me.”
The team certainly brought some brawn for the first half of the Tour, with riders to power the team time trial stage in stage 3 as well as protect Yates across the crosswinds and pavé of stage 9. Jack Bauer, Mat Hayman, Michael Hepburn, and Luke Durbridge are the core team on the flats. Damian Howson, Mikel Nieve, and Daryl Impey will help him on the climbs.
“I don’t think you can win the Tour in the first nine days, but you can certainly lose it,” he said. “Everything is on track, but training is different than racing. You never know until you race.”
Yates called the Tour parcours “tricky” and said he expects a tight race all the way to Paris.
Yates singled out Chris Froome (Sky) as the favorite but did not elaborate on his ongoing salbutamol case that looks to remain unresolved before the start of the Tour on July 7.
“The rules say he can race, and other than that, I really don’t have a view on it,” Yates said of Froome. “It doesn’t change anything in my preparation. He’s won the Tour four times, so I hope he is the favorite.”
So can Mitchelton-Scott and Yates be the ones to knock down Froome? “That’s a tricky one. I will let you know in Paris if we do it.”