Yates came of age at the Vuelta in 2018, bouncing back from a Giro d'Italia which ended in disaster
So which Grand Tour win was the best of the season? Could it be Chris Froome’s chaotic, clutching-at-straws Giro? No. What about Geraint Thomas’s exciting and panache-filled Tour win? Not quite.
What about a rider who’d already laid himself bare once in 2018 at the Giro, falling off the leadership throne and into nothingness in humbling public freefall. A rider who, despite his young age, picked himself up and returned two and a half months later at the Vuelta in full battle order to finish what he started. Now that has to be the Grand Tour win of the year.
For Simon Yates to even get to the Vuelta a España start line was brave. In fact, as team boss Matt White admits, Yates spent some time licking his Giro wounds, and it was only a decent performance at the Tour of Poland in August that convinced him he might be in with a shout in the Spanish race. “He went into the Vuelta quietly confident he could get the job done,” White says.
To say he got the job done is probably understating it. He took the lead in a perfectly timed (though not entirely planned) swoop, and ruled the race all the way to Madrid. He even employed cool-headed tactical nous to loan out the red jersey for a couple of days while he saved energy, before romping ahead again in the mountains to a first Grand Tour victory.
The Vuelta had always been on the cards for Yates. The challenge was to avoid burning himself out in the heat of southern Spain early in the race.
Then, as the race drew level with the centre of the country after a long transfer north for stage nine, Yates was suddenly in the red jersey of the leader. The timing was ideal, and such had been his consistency that he didn’t even have to expend energy attacking to secure it.
From there on in, Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott team expertly walked the line between tactical excellence and ferocious attacking performances. For example, instead of panicking and burning out his team after an 18-rider break built an 11-minutes-plus lead in the low Galician hills of stage 12, Yates calmly conceded his jersey to Jesus Herrada of Cofidis, before taking it back with a stage win atop the cat-one summit finish at Les Praeres Nava two days later.
That’s the mark of a fine champion if ever we’ve seen it — the finest Grand Tour champion of 2018.