Simon Yates expects ‘intense’ return to racing

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Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was supposed to be gearing up to start the Giro d’Italia with an eye towards achieving Olympic glory in Tokyo. But things have gone a bit differently than he – or anyone else – had planned.

Like so many others around the world, the 27-year-old Briton has been on lockdown for weeks now. His plan for 2020, which had been quite clear until a few months ago, is now a question mark.

“One of the reasons I was going back to the Giro is that I was also going to the Olympics and I believed that was the best run-in to the Olympics, to have a big block of racing there and then go to Tokyo early and prepare properly,” Yates explained in a Zoom chat attended by CyclingTips and a handful of other outlets on Thursday. “But with obviously the Olympics being next year now, that changes things.

“It’s all up in the air at the moment. I have not had the discussion with Whitey [sports director Matt White] and the team to lay out the rest of the year now.”

Yates has spent the past several weeks of lockdown at home in Andorra, where cycling outside was prohibited until just this week. He said that the lack of a concrete calendar was a challenge these past few weeks, but he has managed to stay in shape nonetheless.

“So that was the hardest thing, not knowing when we would come back and race. Keeping the physical condition has actually been quite easy,” Yates said. “Riding on the home trainer is hard work. It’s definitely more intense than riding outside on the road. The fitness is really good, the general condition is really good.”

The 2018 Vuelta a España champion has maintained that condition with a strong commitment to putting in the hours on Zwift, both in training and in virtual races.

“I’ve enjoyed myself on there,” he said. “I’ve used Zwift quite a lot just for riding but never really get involved with the races. And they’re tough. They’re really tough. You have to go ready to race otherwise you’ll be out the back really quick.”

Indeed Yates has enjoyed his Zwifting so much that he was in no rush to get back outside when Andorra eased lockdown restrictions slightly to allow pros to train (on a specific stretch of road, for two hours, every other day).

“There’s still high restrictions on what we can do,” he said. “I have yet to go outside, because for one reason or another, I’m happy inside on the home trainer. For me to go to a parking space and ride a climb for two hours, for me I can get my work done inside.”

Simon Yates on Willunga Hill at the 2020 Tour Down Under. Photo: Dario Belingheri/RB/Cor Vos © 2020

As such, Yates expects to be prepared if and when things begin to return to normal. Considering how many races have been crammed into a small stretch of time on the UCI’s new WorldTour calendar, Yates knows he will need to be at his best if competition resumes as planned in August.

“I think it’s going to be a very intense period — so many races packed together in such a short period of time,” he said. “It’s going to be really stressful.”

Potentially compounding that stress is Yates’s contract status — his deal with Mitchelton-Scott, where he has spent the entirety of his pro career since going WorldTour in 2014, runs out at the end of the year.

Under normal circumstances, he would be gearing up to prove his Grand Tour chops at the Giro d’Italia right now. Instead, he will have to wait until at least the traditional start of transfer season to put his form on display, and that’s assuming everything goes according to plan with the UCI’s newly revised calendar.

Yates said he was keeping his focus elsewhere, and he put things in perspective by pointing out that plenty of others around the peloton are facing uncertainty whether they have contracts for next season or not.

“Of course, it’s always nice to have security with a contract but everyone is going through the same thing with budget cuts and salary cuts. It’s unprecedented times that we’re living through,” he said.

“I don’t know what going to happen next year with regards to contracts but I think we should all concentrate on racing first and then we can start to think about next year.”

For now, Yates’s concentration on racing is limited to Zwift events, like this week’s Tour for All, where he has been competing alongside his Mitchelton-Scott teammates. Sooner or later, however, he is hoping to have a better idea of what his 2020 road calendar will look like — and it sounds like he plans on being flexible given the unprecedented circumstances.

“I’ll have a team meeting with Whitey and the rest of the team in the coming days to discuss the program going forward,” he said. “I’m open to anything.”

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