Simon Yates says he will be starting the Giro d’Italia on the back foot after the opening time trial, but hopes to play the long game and wait until the third week to plan his assault on the overall classification.
The Mitchelton-Scott man is one of two Brits receiving top billing as a pre-race favourite following his Tirreno-Adriatico win, hotly tipped for the maglia rosa alongside Ineos’ Geraint Thomas, but expects to be making up ground following stage one.
“The prologue [stage one] is the worst time trial I could ever imagine, all the way downhill,” Yates admitted. “We did the recon for the one in the middle, it looks okay, still not a great TT for me. I can only do my best so for the final TT in Milan we need to wait until we get there to see the situation.
“Of course it will be difficult, it will never be my specialty, I’ll never be one of the guys looking to take time in the TT.”
With 15,000 metres of climbing across stages 17, 18 and 20, however, including ascents of the Stelvio (from the hardest side) and the Col d’Izoard, Yates reckons he’s in with a chance.
“The final week will be really hard, I know some of the stages, I’m confident in what I know to be able to do a good job,” Yates assessed.
It was a more measured response ahead of the Italian Grand Tour compared to this time last year, where the Brit received a bit of flak from Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) after Yates said he would be “sh*t scared” if he were his rivals.
He managed an eighth-place finish that year, better than his 21st overall in 2018, saying that’s where he learned his lesson ahead of his Vuelta a España win of how to tackle a Grand Tour.
“That  Giro, we really went at it from the beginning, we were aggressive from the start because we wanted to take the jersey,” Yates recollected. “But in the Vuelta we were calmer, waiting to the end, and that’s what we’ll try and do here.
“The [2020 Giro] is three weeks, we cant treat it like it’s a one-week race, we just need to be calm in the moments where we need to be.”
Although Thomas is likely to provide his stiffest competition, Yates also highlights Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Nibali and Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) as the ones he needs to watch. And, despite the strength of Ineos’ squad, hopes for a more open race, which he can enjoy.
“I really enjoy racing where I can express myself, I don’t like it where the trains line out the peloton on the climb,” Yates said of how he likes to race. “Because at the end of the day that’s an FTP test: who can do the best effort for the longest?
“It’s not exciting for me or the fans. I like racing with lots of tactics, that’s part of the sport. I like to attack early. We can’t control everything, but that’s the way I like to race.”
Like Thomas, the Brit is candid ahead of the race start on Saturday, riders seemingly just pleased they actually have Grand Tours to ride in this disrupted season.
This surface-level placidity belies the natural competitiveness of these top-level pros, however, which does come out when he is asked about his brother Adam by an Italian journalist who, true to his nation’s emotive stereotype, says he has an affinity for the Yates brothers, being a twin himself.
Simon says he didn’t speak to Adam much during the Tour despite his brother taking the yellow jersey, “it’s not really my moment to say anything, he’s concentrating on racing, doing a job” but that there is a competitiveness there, which will, of course, be explored for the first time properly next season when Adam switches teams.
‘For sure I would say I’m the best and I’m sure he would say he’s the best,” Simon Yates said of the competition between the twins. “Maybe next year we’ll get the opportunity to see because he’s changing teams, but that question is for another day.”
First, Simon Yates has to beat the Ineos team of 2020.