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Simon Yates sat behind a Giro d’Italia press conference table and stated to the world, unequivocally, that if he was in his rivals’ shoes he’d be “shitting myself.”
Yates left the usual pre-race press conference platitudes behind on Friday, insisting that he’s the “number one favorite” for this year’s Giro. The comments came in stark contrast to more traditional pre-race fare, in which the top favorites eye each other and let little real insight slip. How are they feeling? Good. Confident. Who will win? Certainly, someone will.
A resporter asked: So who is the favorite? A one-word answer: “Me.” Better than Tom Dumoulin, better than Primoz Roglic, better than Vincenzo Nibali. Yates is here to win. And he’s not shy about it.
Yates came so close to a Giro victory last year. At the start of stage 19, just three stages to go, Yates had a 28-second lead over Dumoulin, 2’43” over Domenico Pozzovivo, 3’22” over Chris Froome. Five hours later, as Froome finished off one of the most astonishing GC coups in modern history, Yates was still more than a half an hour from the finish line. He would finish 38 minutes down, his run in pink over.
Yates was aggressive early last year, winning three stages and spending 13 days in the maglia rosa. That’s a lesson learned, it seems. A backloaded route this year will dampen early ambitions. “This year’s Giro lends itself to being conservative in the beginning. The hardest part of the race is at the end,” Yates said. “We have an idea how to approach these races now.”
Though it was a mountain stage that ended his hopes last year, it is this Giro’s triplet of time trials that should worry Yates most. He has a stochastic history against the clock, at times exceptional and at others poor. “I won the last time I did a time-trial,” he pointed out, correctly, referencing his victory at Paris-Nice. He performed decently well in the Giro’s stage 16 time trial last year, finishing about a minute down on his rivals, and finished on the same time as hour record holder Victor Campanaerts at the 32-km time trial in last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
The Giro opens with a time trial on Saturday. A large climb to the finish suits Yates better than later tests against the clock. It will be the first test, at the very least a slight indication of whether Yates rivals should, indeed, be shitting themselves.