When the Vuelta a España starts in Málaga on Saturday, one of the many plotlines will be provided by Bury’s Yates twins, Simon and Adam, who will race together in a major Tour for only the third time. Given how hard they are to tell apart, they will be a television commentator’s nightmare. But based on how well they have performed together in the past, the combination could create major problems for a strong field that includes three previous winners.
Matt White, their directeur sportif at the Mitchelton-Scott squad, said the plan is for Simon – who has been rested since the Giro d’Italia – to lead the team, with Adam in support. The decision to field Adam alongside Simon was taken late in the day after the former’s attempt to finish on the podium of the Tour de France fell flat. After the Vuelta it is likely that both riders will target the world road race championships in Innsbruck, subject to selection.
The pair rode the 2015 Tour de France together but that was in the period before they were targeting high placings overall. Since then they have been largely raced apart, except for last year’s Vuelta, where they made little impact, with Adam finishing 34th and Simon 44th.
“They’ve been on different trajectories, sometimes one develops faster than the other,” says White, who has looked after the pair since they turned professional in 2014. “There’s always been one in front of the other over the last few years. Adam achieved success more quickly – how many guys win a Classic and finish fourth in the Tour aged 23? – while Simon was more of a grafter. It took him longer to develop but he’s had an incredible year.”
Simon Yates’s 2018 will be remembered mostly for the Giro d’Italia, where he wore the pink leader’s jersey for 13 days and won three stages before blowing up spectacularly on the penultimate mountain stage. But he also came within an ace of winning Paris-Nice, where he took the toughest stage, and he won the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya.
“The Giro was a big step up for him,” reflects White. “He was clearly the best climber there, totally dominated the mountain stages across the board but paid the price in the end. It was a big confidence boost for him. He was tired afterwards – he went deeper than in all his career so far.
“We will ride the Vuelta a bit differently – it’s late in the year, it’s the second Grand Tour of his season – and the Giro wasn’t actually all that long ago. The objective is to put together a solid three weeks and finish strong because that’s an area he can improve on.”
White concedes that Mitchelton may have made an error in permitting Yates to race so hard so early in the Giro d’Italia, as he may have paid the price in the final few days. “It wasn’t a matter of support. We were in total control for 17 days. He was never alone. Yes, we could have pulled him back a couple of times but we had a plan to take on Chris Froome whenever we could – we could have adjusted that a bit.
“He’d never had a lead in a Grand Tour before. He was in the best form of his life; perhaps we got a bit carried away but he learned what his limits are. You can learn from that experience of pushing too hard.”
Adam Yates goes into the Vuelta in a different position, having cracked in the Alps at the Tour de France and never recovered. White puts that down in part to the loss of a month’s training after he broke his pelvis at the Volta a Catalunya in late March. “He didn’t have ideal preparation but those were the cards we were dealt,” White says. “At the Tour it was a combination of things. He made a mistake with his hydration one day and paid for it but the next day was Alpe d’Huez.”
The pair will race in Spain with one eye on the world championships at the end of September. They are far from alone in this. Vincenzo Nibali has made no secret of the fact he is targeting Innsbruck, which will include perhaps the steepest climb in a world championship in recent memory.
The course is exceptionally hard, with more climbing than normal plus a single ascent late on locally known as “hell” because of its 25% gradient. “There is no chance of a big group being together at the finish,” says White, “and that last climb will suit them both. They say it’s going to be the hardest world championship in the modern era.”
First comes the Vuelta, however, which includes eight summit finishes, with stages 13 to 15 through the Asturian mountains looking particularly challenging, as does the penultimate stage through Andorra. Apart from an 8km prologue this coming Saturday, there is only one time trial and that is relatively short at 32km.
The field includes former winners in Fabio Aru, Nibali and Nairo Quintana. Richie Porte and Rigoberto Urán also make their comebacks after crashing out of the Tour de France. All of them have at least one thing in common: they are looking to salvage something from the season after falling short in the Giro or the Tour.