Simon Yates Q&A: On the Giro, Yorkshire Worlds and infamous UK climbs
Late last week CyclingTips reporter Dave Everett caught up with Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) at Scott HQ in Switzerland. In a wide-ranging conversation the pair talked about Yates’ eighth-place finish in the recent Giro d’Italia, what life is like as a pro racer, his journey through the sport, and even about an infamous climb in the north of England.
The Q&A you can read below is a lightly edited version of that conversation.
CyclingTips: The Giro only finished a few days ago and you’ve dashed from Italy to Switzerland to check out Scott’s new HQ here. That’s got to be a bit of a mad dash after three weeks of hard racing?
Yeah. I had a bit of nightmare getting here as well. Because I tried to fly to Geneva post the race, had a transfer through Frankfurt and there was just a big storm there. We tried to land and had to do a lap around the airport there and I missed my connection. So it was just a bit of a mess to organise a new flight. Got home super late at night and then next day arrived here.
How happy were you with the Giro?
Personally overall I was very disappointed with what I did. It was still an OK ride. You know, I was top 10 overall. Some riders are over the moon about being top 10 but I didn’t go there for that. I went there to win. So for me that was of course very disappointing.
[I’m] still to understand what happened there. I arrived in great shape, the prologue went exactly how I thought it was going to go — great second place there — and then we got towards the middle part of the race and I just started to unravel really. Had a few bounces back on one or two stages but I was never really at the level that I wanted to be at come the final week. So that was pretty disappointing for me personally.
Is the Giro a difficult race to judge your form for? With the Tour de France it’s a little bit later on in the year, everyone hits it at 110% so you know what to expect but the Giro’s a bit of a wild and unpredictable race …
Yeah I think that was it. We had so much bad weather in the first part there as well. And for me personally there wasn’t many stages to have a really solid hit-out. There was a lot of sprint stages. For me personally I didn’t really open up for eight days there. Because we had the prologue and then we had so many stages there which … they were all sprint stages. They were very controlled and we came to the next time trial there and I just didn’t have it really.
We heard about a few riders, I think it was in first week, who were hanging off the back of the peloton, doing a few efforts to keep the legs ticking over …
I’ve heard the rumours of this as well but I was not doing that. I was doing the opposite — I was trying to save as much energy as possible because we knew how hard the third week was going to be. We knew how difficult the finals were going to be. I didn’t want to pin myself before I got there with nothing to actually do.
So no I was really conserving energy. The team looked after me amazingly. It’s just one of those things really. I don’t have an answer for you.
In the press conference the day before the Giro you came out fighting, saying your rivals should be shitting themselves. It was a polarising statement. Personally I loved it because the press conferences are flippin’ boring — It was really nice to have somebody come in and say something really different. I’m guessing you feel more people should come to a press conference with more to say than “my legs are good”?
You’ll know more than me: How many guys actually went there and said ‘Look I’m here to win?’ Everyone’s like ‘I’m hoping to do my best. I would hope for a podium.’ Every leader, they go there and they’re [thinking] ‘I want to win. I’m here to win the race.’
[I got] a bit of flak but that doesn’t bother me. If someone else said it I would not be offended by it or anything like that. You’ve got to put in context how it’s said also. I’m not saying it like, dead-faced, Terminator — I’m joking about it; I’m laughing about it. I think when you read it comes out a lot worse than it was actually said.
I suppose the foreign media may translate it and it gets written in a different language. The Dutch might be thinking “Hold on a minute is that a dig at Mr Dumoulin?”
There were a lot of guys from the north west of England in this year’s Giro. Yourself from Bury, James Knox from Levens in the Lake District, Hugh Carthy from Preston. What is it about the north?
There was actually quite a lot of the younger Brits there as well. You had Tao [Geoghegan Hart] and those guys and it was good actually. Especially those sprint stages where we didn’t have much to do, we were always having a bit of a laugh and a joke about it.
All of those guys are really great riders. You look at them and I don’t know how young they are but they are very impressive already. You saw Hugh … I’m not sure where he finished overall … [ed. Carthy finished 11th]. You’ll know more than me but was he even targeting the GC before he came?
Not that I know of.
… and he’s come close to the top 10. And it must be his first time riding for three weeks like that. So really great ride. And he showed himself to be … he climbed with the best guys there for many days. It was really really impressive.
What is it about the north west? I grew up there up in the Lake District. The cycling scene there hasn’t been as strong as it is down south where there’s huge clubs, money, people, investment. I feel like the north west has always been a bit forgotten. Do you see that it like that?
From when I started to now it’s blown up massively. One of my former clubs, Bury Clarion, they’ve got 10 times the amount members they used to have when I was there. When we used to meet on a Wednesday, or whatever day it was, and I wouldn’t go every week, but whenever I did it was maybe 10 guys max. And now they have, almost every day of the week, they have groups going out and different people doing different loops and then they have a ladies night only and it’s really blown up massively. So in that regard I think cycling’s still booming. I can only see it continuing if I’m honest.
With Tour of Yorkshire, Worlds 2019, it’s become the centre of the cycling scene in the UK …
You must be looking forward to the world championships being on home turf this year?
Yeah, well almost home turf, just around the corner. Yeah it’s gonna be difficult. It’s 290km. It’s a super long race — longer than normal. I think Worlds last year in Austria were 250-260 so it’s another hour from there and that was already close to a seven-hour race so it’s gonna be very very difficult.
Of course I know the roads well. Yeah, it’s gonna be a race of who’s got what left, really. It’s not gonna be those big powerful guys; it’s just gonna be the guys who can manage it the best. It’s just gonna wear you down.
Because the hills are real pullers aren’t they? Not long. Relentless, one after another. And held on British back roads that are quite narrow, with stonewalls … Not a lot of Europeans are really going to be used to that.
But I guess the UK has a lot of races now. They have Tour de Yorkshire — a lot of the teams do Tour de Yorkshire. Of course the Tour went there in 2014, the Tour of Britain’s having huge success — a lot of WorldTour teams go there as well. I think the majority of riders will have already raced in the UK at least once. So it won’t be a huge surprise. For sure there are differences.
Have you seen the route for the Tour of Britain?
No, but I heard a wild rumour it’s going up The Rake [ed. a steep climb in Lancashire often used in hill climb competitions]. I don’t know if it’s a finish or not.
It’s pretty much a Tour of the north of the UK. I think it starts in Scotland and doesn’t go below Manchester.
It will be interesting if it goes up the Rake. I’m still waiting for a prologue or something there, that would be great.
You must have the Strava KOM up there?
Oh no. They go too fast for me. The guys who race there are unbelievable. Because they come with the bikes that have been tuned — they’ve got their holes in the saddle and a two kilo bike or whatever — ridiculous. There’s no way I would go that fast. It’s always end of the year or in the offseason or whenever it is.
Yesterday we watched an documentary on Esteban Chaves, about him coming back from the 2017-8 seasons where he had broken bones and mono. And having to go home to reset, heal and fall in love with cycling again. Because he said he kind of fell out of love with it. How difficult is it to keep that fun, that love of cycling when you’re racing as a full-time professional and it’s a job you’re being paid to do?
I don’t know about the rest of the riders but for me personally I really enjoy racing. The training part of it: I just do that. That’s what I’m paid to do. Does that make sense? I’m paid to train and I am paid to turn up in great shape. But the actual racing side of it, that’s what I enjoy.
I enjoy really getting stuck in and giving it a good go. So from that side, for me personally, I think I will always have that connection. That’s the reason I love it. But for sure I can understand if you don’t enjoy the training, the lifestyle — it can be very very difficult. We can’t train indoors every day — you have to go out and in all [conditions] and for sure, it can wear you down.
Is being a pro racer what you expected when you were a junior?
Yeah more or less. When I was going through the ranks, I was still an 23, I think we were doing a race in … maybe Tour of Normandy or Tour de Bretagne, one of those really hard northern races and we were staying in a really not-so-great French hotel and Keith Lambert, he was there with us, and he was like “This is it. This is cycling. It doesn’t change. If you turn professional you stay in this same hotel.”
So I was kind of expecting it to stay similar. But of course now I have a nice shiny bus to get on in the morning and I can get changed and I’m not sitting outside on a camp chair getting changed in front of everybody. So in that regard I’m living much more of a luxury life on a pro team. But the hotels and everything around it is the same as when I was a junior.
Is there anything you miss about being a junior? Like sitting in the back of a Ford Escort having your legs massaged by your dad or whatever?
No, the things I remember the most about that was just the banter with the boys. We were all exactly the same age and we were all just coming through the sport. We really had some good times there, that’s what I remember the most. But if you’re talking everyone else around it … the pro lifestyle is …I enjoy that. I enjoy getting looked after, getting my washing done …
The other thing that was brought up in the Esteban’s video yesterday was the family connection. He really needs that family connection to recharge himself. Do you need that? Obviously your brother’s in the same team. Do you need that family connection? You need your mom and dad?
Yes and no. I’m OK to be alone. I enjoy getting away from everything and just being in the mountains there and being quiet. But at the same time you can’t do without. Of course it helps with Adam being in the same team and same training camps — we’re always having that connection. Also when you think about it, technology has improved so much.
I was speaking to [ed. Mitchelton-Scott sports director] Matthew White the other day and he had to put money in a [pay phone] to call home when he was a pro and he’s quite a young guy really. I can pick up the phone and I see their faces any time of the day, anywhere in the world. I can speak to my parents almost directly and I think it’s improved the connection with the family so much more.