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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Simon Yates warns it ‘would be silly’ to count out Remco Evenepoel

After a knee injury took Yates out of the Giro d'Italia, he returns to the Vuelta for the first time since winning in 2018 with every intention of winning again.

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Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) starts as one of six returning former champions to the 2022 Vuelta a España. In fact, Friday’s opening team time trial will be his first Vuelta stage since he won in 2018.

Now 30, Yates says he hasn’t been paying much attention to any would-be rivals, but was quick to add that no one should discount the chances of Remco Evenepoel.

The Belgian star lines up for his first Vuelta and his second career grand tour, but Yates was impressed enough with how Evenepoel blew the wheels off everyone at the Clásica San Sebastián to mark him as a serious GC threat.

“You look at his demonstration at San Sebastián it would be silly to discount him,” Yates said Wednesday. “Of course he is still very young. I think everyone is still saying, ‘three weeks, three weeks,’ but at some point in the future he will be one of these grand tour riders over three weeks.”

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Evenepoel is coming into the Vuelta downplaying his own chances, insisting that he’s hoping to win one stage, and let the GC chips fall where they may.

After flaming out of last year’s Giro d’Italia in his high-profile grand tour debut, Evenepoel says he’s thinner and more mature as he confronts the Vuelta course that, on paper, could suit him better than the longer, grinding climbs at the Italian grand tour.

Yates — who was forced to abandon the Giro this year with a knee injury despite showing glittering form — said he’ll be keeping an eye on Evenepoel.

“This year might not be the year, at some point it’s coming,” Yates said. “So we’ll see if it’s this year or not.”

As far as the other GC rivals, Yates said he’s been more focused on his own preparation and working with his teammates at altitude to pay too much attention.

“The usual suspects,” Yates said. “A lot of the guys are coming out of the Giro. I’ve not really been paying attention to the other races that I’ve been doing there in Spain a few weeks ago. We will see. I really don’t know.”

More important for Yates is to get out of three tricky stages in the Netherlands and arrive in Spain for a week of tough climbing stages across the Cantabrian range with all of his GC options intact.

Yates has seen more than a few GC opportunities go down to bad luck, crashes, and illnesses, but he is encouraged by his third-place Giro podium in 2021 that he can be a serious contender for the red jersey in Madrid on September 11.

“Once we get to Spain, it’s a typical Vuelta. It’s hard every day, and there’s always something that you need to be aware of and switched on for,” Yates said. “There’s never any time to rest in the Vuelta.

“I like that style of racing and getting stuck-in. The Vuelta isn’t like other grand tours when you’re pedaling around doing nothing all day. It’s hard to stay focused mentally.

“At the Vuelta, you really race every day, and I really enjoy that. That brings out aggressive racing as well. That’s La Vuelta for you.”

Yates: ‘I just want to get through the first part safely’

Simon Yates receives medical treatment during stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia
Simon Yates receives medical treatment during stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia. (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Yates defended his teammates and the depth of the Vuelta squad, which also brings Lawson Craddock for a helper in the mountains as well as sprinter Kaden Groves.

Yates hasn’t done a team time trial since 2018, and the team got together for some specific team time trial training sessions in Spain as well as in on a closed circuit in the Netherlands.

Yates turned the page on his Giro setback, when an early crash led to a knee injury that festered before he was forced to leave. With no time to recovery before the Tour de France, the Vuelta became a natural next target.

“I had to have a long time off with the injury, nearly a full month off the bike,” he said. “I would have not been in any state to do a good Tour de France, so it was soon a discussion to see how well I could build back up for the Vuelta.”

Crashes, illnesses, and bad luck are just as much of a part of racing as winning and attacking, and Yates hopes to have more of the latter than the former during this Vuelta.

“I just want to get through this first part safely, without any crashes, and after that I hope I can show myself as best as possible,” Yates said. ”

“A lot of it comes down to luck, and I will keep plugging away, and helpfully this will be a good race,” he said. “Only last year I was on the podium on the Giro, and it hasn’t been end of the world. I would have liked to have been on the top step, but that’s how cycling goes.

“I’ve won this race before, and I don’t see why there’s any reason not to think I cannot do it again,” he said. “Of course, it’s never easy, so we’ll have to see how it goes.”