Simon Yates certainly made an impression at the 2018 Giro d'Italia, but brother Adam has taken a very different path as he aims for the Tour de France podium
While Adam and Simon Yates both admit to being big fans of music, I’d be surprised if this extended to Irving Berlin’s Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better), written in the mid-1940s for the musical Annie Get Your Gun.
Yet if the careers of the Yates twins were to be set to music, this song would be the ideal fit as the soundtrack.
Since entering the pro ranks with Orica-GreenEdge in 2014, the two Lancastrians have followed almost parallel routes to the very top level of the sport.
Where one has gone, the other has almost inevitably followed, both of them claiming top-10 finishes in WorldTour stage races, winning the best young rider title at the Tour de France, and establishing themselves as favourites for any Grand Tour they line up in.
In terms of victories, Simon, the slightly older of the brothers from Bury, holds a marginal advantage, largely thanks to his three stage wins at May’s Giro d’Italia, where it looked for much of the race that he would be the first British rider to take that crown.
Ultimately, after 13 days in the maglia rosa, that wasn’t to be. Yet, Simon emerged from the Giro with his status further enhanced as he looks towards the Vuelta a España and perhaps the extremely hilly World Championship later on in the season.
In the meantime, Adam is set to take centre stage, with the Tour de France once again his target, having missed last year’s edition. The bar has been set high if he is to regain bragging rights at the family’s next get-together.
After sustaining a fractured pelvis at the Tour of Catalonia in late March, he returned to racing in May at the Tour of California, finishing fifth overall behind young Sky sensation Egan Bernal. His road to the Tour then took him to the Critérium du Dauphiné, where a stage win at Saint-Gervais on the final day lifted him into second place on GC behind another of Sky’s Tour hopefuls, Geraint Thomas.
Traditionally a dress rehearsal for the Tour, the Dauphiné stuck to type. It featured a prologue and team time trial either side of two hilly road stages, with four consecutive days in the high mountains to finish. Yates relished the opportunity the Dauphiné provided, both to measure his form against his rivals and to sharpen him up for July.
“I prefer to have lots of climbing in a race like this. For me, when it’s harder, it’s better. Obviously I’m still not 100 per cent yet, but the Tour’s a long way away and I’m feeling good with how I’m progressing,” he tells Cycling Weekly on the morning of the first road stage in Valence.
Yates’s path into the Dauphiné via California, which also included an altitude training camp at Lake Tahoe, enabled him to follow his brother’s impressive Giro performance very closely.
“I watched most of it and it was good fun to follow given how the guys smashed it, taking five stages and holding the leader’s jersey for pretty much two weeks,” he says.
Ninth on his own corsa rosa debut in 2017, Adam was able to provide his brother with some insight into the challenges that Simon would face, but confesses he wasn’t that surprised to see him drop dramatically out of contention in the final few days. “He was going for every bonus second he could get in the beginning, and it takes its toll on you,” he says with a shrug.
“But it was a great experience for him and he won three stages. Anyone would be happy with that. He was very aggressive and was good fun to watch.
It’s not easy to be that aggressive and have the balls to go off the front when you need time. In the end it didn’t work out. That’s bike racing.”
That assessment is typical of Adam’s matter-of-fact manner. When CW spoke to him following his Tour white jersey win in 2016 he had a similarly blunt explanation about how he kept his motivation up when training in snowy Andorra prior to the Tour:
“If you are not doing the work and don’t get the result you are letting everyone down, aren’t you? You see Mat Hayman in the wind working for three weeks and if I’m pissing about because I’ve missed a training session then I’m not professional and not doing my job. It’s not hard to find the motivation when you have a group of good guys supporting you to get a good result.”
His approach this year doesn’t seem to have changed, but can it carry him to replicate or surpass his brother’s results in Italy? Again he is to the point.
“The way they were riding and setting it up [at the Giro], we can take that to the Tour and hopefully replicate the same situation,” he says, in his typical speedy staccato manner that seems equal parts supreme youthful confidence and nervousness with the press.
If he does that it’ll be just another in the long list of reasons it’s hard to tell the Yates brothers apart. Even their team-mates find it hard to spot differences.
“There’s not much at all between them, or at least not that I can see,” Daryl Impey admits. “Nobody knows who’s the better of the pair. If one wins, the other brother tries to emulate him. They’re both great riders and ultra-competitive.”
Mitchelton’s head DS Matt White agrees, but only to a point. “In terms of what they can do on the bike, I think they’re quite similar, which is no surprise seeing that they are twins. They’re both aggressive, but they’re quite different characters off the bike,” he suggests.
“I think Adam is the more aggressive of the two. At the Giro, Simon was quite aggressive, but that was a tactic because we knew we had to take time bonuses to win the race. In general, though, Simon is a little bit more conservative, whereas Adam is like a bull at a gate in everything that he does. He’s always up and about.”
White adds that Adam occasionally needs to be reined in a bit, to be reminded that he can’t be aggressive all of the time. “He likes taking on the world, but there’s a time and a place to do it,” explains the Australian DS.
Separating the two may become easier next season as both riders are out of contract after 2018 and may end up joining different teams. Mitchelton are keen to keep them but whether they have the resources isn’t clear as Simon will have increased his market value considerably with his Giro ride, and Adam may well yet do the same.
According to White, Simon was “essentially the best bike rider at the Giro”. He adds: “He wore the maglia rosa for 13 days, he won three stages, gave one away to his team-mate and was second to Chris Froome on two stages. He’s 25 and he’s only going to get better over the next five years. He’s one step away from winning a Grand Tour.”
Given their almost parallel paths of progress, it must therefore be assumed that Adam has reached that same point. During the Giro, Simon explained that the brothers’ move to Andorra had helped them make further strides in the mountains, and Adam endorses the benefits of living and training in the tiny Pyrenean country that’s hemmed in on almost every side by 3,000-metre peaks.
“Andorra’s a lot hillier than England, that’s for sure,” he says of the move. “You’re pretty much always at altitude, so instead of having to go to a ski resort and spend time up there, I can just stay at home, which is high up to get the most benefit. It makes it a lot easier on the head and then easier on the legs when you come down again to race.”
Between the Dauphiné and the Tour, however, Yates will complete his high-altitude preparation for July at Sierra Nevada in southern Spain.
“After spending a couple of days in London to see his girlfriend, he’ll do a big block up there. After that, he’ll head to France to recon some Tour stage,” White explains on the morning of the final stage of the Dauphiné to Saint-Gervais, where Yates took a clever victory ahead of Romain Bardet that highlighted his eye for an opportunity.
White adds: “This Tour is a race of two halves, the first one full of traps and difficult stages where we’ll need to keep him out of trouble, the second in the mountains where we hope to see the best of him.”
It’s worth noting that while Simon had raced in Italy comparatively little — and never at the Giro — before May this year, Adam has raced more kilometres as a pro in France than in any other country and is familiar with many of the Tour’s climbs, which will stand him in good stead.
Based on past history, and remembering Irving Berlin’s lyrics, Yates’s best could be very good indeed. Buoyed by his team’s strong Giro showing and his brother’s heroics, Yates insists he can be in contention. “This season has been all about the Tour for me,” he says.
The Australian team that began as GreenEdge at the start of the 2012 season, became Orica-GreenEdge the year after and has been racing in Mitchelton-Scott colours since the turn of the year has steadily evolved over that period. Initially renowned for time triallists such as Luke Durbridge and stage and Classic-hunters, most notably Simon Gerrans, Michael Matthews and Michael Albasini, it has become one of the peloton’s most potent Grand Tour teams.
The change stems from the arrival of the Yates brothers, Estebán Chaves and sprinter Caleb Ewan on the roster in 2014. At that year’s Vuelta, Chaves was 41st on GC, up to that point the highest finish place for a GreenEdge rider at a Grand Tour. When the Colombian returned to Spain’s national tour the following year, he claimed two stage wins on his way to fifth overall.
Since then, the team has signed valuable climbers including veteran Alberto Contador lieutenant Roman Kreuziger in 2017 and Sky super-domestique and stage-hunter Mikel Nieve in 2018. Plus, the Australian team placed a rider in the top 11 at every Grand Tour, until the Giro d’Italia in May, when Simon Yates was their leading rider in 21st position.
“Despite Simon falling out of contention in the last few days, it was our best Grand Tour,” insists directeur sportif Matt White, himself one of the smartest directeurs in the sport.
“When we name our team for the Tour, it’s going to be very solid indeed,” adds White. “If anything we’ve got more depth than we’ve ever had, which is great for us and our leaders. It means that some guys are going to be disappointed, which is a good thing for me as a directeur. We’ve got 11 guys who are preparing for the Tour, so three of them are going to miss out.
“You need to have that depth,” White continues, “because, as we’ve realised ourselves in the past, things can happen right up until the day of the race, so you’ve got to have lots of guys well prepared. We’ve certainly got the numbers now.”