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Yates finished eighth overall, at 7:49 back, in a result the 26-year-old described as “heartbreaking.” After a promising start, finishing second to Primoz Roglic in the first stage, Yates’ ambitions of winning the Giro withered as the race progressed.
Where did things go wrong? No one seems to know yet. Yates and Mitchelton-Scott officials will dig through power data and other key indicators to look for an answer.
“We’ll go through some stuff in a few weeks once the dust is settled,” said sport director Matt White in a phone interview “We set the bar very high. For some people, a top-10 is a lifetime achievement. For a young man who has already won a grand tour, and dominated the Giro for much of last year, he was obviously disappointed.”
Yates was just as bewildered as everyone else why he was not able to consistently follow the best during the Giro. After winning last year’s Vuelta a España and holding pink throughout much of last year’s Giro, the English rider put the Italian grand tour at the center of his 2019 ambitions.
Despite some pre-race boasting and a strong opening time trial, the wheels feel off during the San Marino time trial in cold, rainy conditions in stage 9, when he lost more than three minutes to Roglic on a day when the expectations were to lose about a minute. Yates showed signs of life, finishing second and third in stages 14 and 15, respectively, but he couldn’t mount a serious podium challenge in the final week.
Earlier this week, Yates described his Giro this way: “Disappointing isn’t the right word, heartbreaking is more accurate.”
“He was heartbroken because he prepared very well, and he thought he could win the Giro,” White said. “If you put so much into it — he started last year in November to put his season focus on the Giro — so of course he’s disappointed. He isn’t trying to sugar coat it. He’s gutted. He’s just being honest.”
A crash late in stage 4 certainly didn’t help, but there were no other major health problems. There was some suggestion that Yates came into the race too fresh, hoping to hit his peak form for the final crushing week. His approach to the Giro was similar to last year — he raced Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya, only swapping out the Abu Dhabi Tour in 2018 for the Ruta del Sol this year.
This year’s course also lacked some of the punchier hilltop finales that Yates shined on during his pink run last year.
So what happened? White said the team isn’t making any excuses.
“He was good at the Giro, he just wasn’t at his very best,” he said. “To win a grand tour, you need to be the very best. He wasn’t at 100 percent, and he was not as punchy as he was 12 months ago. That’s the difference between winning a stage and not being at the level to climb with the best four or five GC guys in the race.”
White said team staffers and Yates will meet in the coming days after everyone has a chance to decompress from the intensity of the Giro. A start in the Tour de France might be in the cards for Yates, but nothing is set yet for the second half of the season.
For White, the Giro was a success on several levels even if Yates fell short of his GC ambitions. Esteban Chaves won his first race in a year following a long and patient recovery from Epstein-Barr, and 23-year-old Lucas Hamilton performed above expectations in his grand tour debut.
White, however, has no doubts that Yates is going to be a GC contender in grand tours for years to come.
“You live and learn,” he said. “It’s another grand tour under his belt. Vincenzo Nibali didn’t win every grand tour he started, and he’s got four in seven years. The bar is high with Simon. He’s only 26, and he’s already won a grand tour. It won’t be his last.”