That Simon Yates, riding for Mitchelton-Scott, won the recent Vuelta a Espana (the ‘Tour of Spain’ and the third of the annual ‘Grand Tours’), would not ordinarily be a big surprise, after all, it simply confirmed the promise he’d shown when finishing 7th in last year’s Tour de France as well as winning the ‘best young rider’ category.
Simon Yates (White Jersey) among the Jersey winners of TDF 16
However, after what happened in his previous Grand Tour appearance this year (the Giro d’Italia) some may have had reservations that he could deliver over a 3-week race.
Let’s compare the two events: In the Giro he wore the leader’s pink jersey for a total of 13 stages. He also won 3 stages. This dominance, until his capitulation on stage 19 were broadly dictated by the course and his rivals (principally Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin).
Giro d’italia Stage 16
The long time-trial in the final week meant he knew he was going to lose time (to Froome and Dumoulin) and therefore had to try and gain time at every possible opportunity ahead of the TT Stage. This resulted in several aggressive attacks towards the end of mountainous stages where precious seconds could be harvested.
He also started the Giro in support of his team mate, Esteban Chaves, but it quickly became apparent that Esteban was struggling & so he had to take sole leadership responsibility early on. This reduced the number of tactical options the team were left to play with.
Giro d’ Italia 2018 Stage15
Everything was going to plan until that fateful stage 19 which included the Colle delle Finestre. It was on this climb, still 80km from the finish, that Froome launched his now infamous long-range solo attack. Had it not been for Froome’s attack, he may have been able to ‘hide’ his deteriorating form, limit his losses and retain a podium place. Once it became apparent all was lost, Simon was happy to sit up and not damage himself further by trying to keep a top 10 position.
Contrasting the events of the Giro with the Vuelta, we saw Simon consistently save energy and ride conservatively as despite a mid-race time trial, the last week contained 3 hard mountain stages where he knew he could attack & be attacked. Additionally, with the time trial in mind, it was shorter and a different profile to that in Italy. Crucially, none of his major rivals were significantly stronger in the TT either.
Simon’s Sports Director, Matt White, had to tell him every day in the Vuelta to back off – advice which he heeded.
La Vuelta 2018 Stage 9
When Simon ‘accidentally’ gained the red leader’s jersey on Stage 9, he was happy to yield it a couple of days later to a weaker rival, thus saving himself and his team the stress and expended energy required in defending it.
Perhaps only a subliminal benefit in Spain, he also had his twin brother alongside riding shotgun, chasing down breaks and riding tempo when required.
The experience gained from being in the leader’s jersey for so long in Italy would also have been beneficial – how to defend, how to conserve energy, the protocols that go on before and after each stage (introductions to the crowd and media commitments before, plus podium and dope control processes afterwards).
1. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT) 82:05:58
2. Enric Mas (Quickstep Floors) +1:46
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) +2:04
Simon himself admits he does not know what went ‘wrong’ in Italy and therefore could not put his finger on what he did particularly differently ahead of, or during, the Vuelta. With the margins of professional, elite sport as small as fractions of a percent, maybe the difference this time was not wholly physical and more the experience of having led and then lost the Giro. As we say all the time during coaching workshops – you must be prepared to lose in order to win and this is exactly what Simon has done!
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Nigel Smith is an avid road cyclist and a British Cycling Level 2 certified coach, making him one of the most qualified cycling coaches in the country. With a deep understanding of the sport and racing at the many one day classics that the world of cycling has to offer, Nigel brings about unparalleled understanding of the sport. Nigel is from the UK and has been living in Mumbai for the past year and a half.