After Chris Froome’s horrific crash which was a personal tragedy for him and a professional tragedy for all those hoping to easily mail in their Tour prediction articles, we here at the Cafe struggle on with the now complicated task of figuring out who can actually win this Tour de France now that this race has been blown wide open. Or at least as open as the eight man cycling-killing Ineos-machine will allow it to be. From out of the bag of favorites that contains accident-prone reigning champs, pimple faced kids, and old astanites whith better hair than GT palmarés, I’ve been tasked with examining the chances of some Englishman who is so weird he didn’t even bother to sign for Sky when he had the chance and who may or may not even be better than his own brother. 2019, you are so weird, I love you.
The Case for Adam Yates
Progression is what I’d call the best case for Adam. Progression of the kind that we have seen with these brothers ever since they turned pro, not uncomplicated linear by any means but clearly progression that follows a general upward trend over time. Just as with his brother we see better and better performances and leaps to new levels even if they tend to come in the shape of “two steps forward, one step back” . Simon took two steps (or more) forward last year followed by one step back this year. Adam grabbed 4th in the TdF when he took two steps forward in 2017 only to take one step back in last year’s Tour. In the weeklong races though, Adam is as steady as can be these last few years which really indicates that the general top level is there. Had he been the one Mitchelton had pointed at Giro/Vuelta instead, would he be the one with two GT wins under his belt ? It’s not unthinkable at least. So is maybe the next step in the progression a stab at a TdF win?
Apart from a bit of illness that made him DNF the Dauphiné with the win still within reach, his season preparations have gone flawlessly which is mainly why he is one of the top favorites this time. He’s ticked pretty much every box we want with a little bit of the air of someone who isn’t trying too hard and has bigger goals on the horizon. At a point when we’ve seen Roglic producing so many wow!-performances that he ran out of wows! just a little too soon to win the big one, that kind of preparation looks all the more appealing. It may be an erroneous way to look at it, random factors may be in play, but that’s how my mind works with these things anyway.
When it comes to the brothers, Adam has always been the sneaky one while Simon is the visible one. If you’d ask me to point to a performance of his that I remember I’d say his win in San Sebastian, and then I’d also be obliged to admit that I’ve more than once found myself mis-remembering that as being Simon, simply because it seemed more his type of race and action. But yet Adam plugs away, getting results a bit on the anonymous side and in this edition of the Tour that might just be the ticket. We’ve seen the biggest names fall by the wayside already and the nature of the course and an open field likely means we see the biggest selection happening gradually out the back as the race progresses rather than through spectacular attacks off the front. Last man standing may be the order of the day and that could suit Yates perfectly. His TT is now decent, the TTT should be an opportunity rather than an obstacle and as for the mountains he may end up steadier than the best climbers and climbing better than the other steady riders. If he hits peak form he could have the exact recipe for success in this edition.
In a best case scenario Adam also has some wisdom added from last year’s race where he came in with similar good preparation only to fall out of contention early, already on the second big mountain test. What exactly went wrong I don’t know, as usual there is only talk of “we made some mistakes” but if the team has some idea what it was then they also have the chance of making adjustments and try and avoid a repeat. Simon’s Vuelta win was a case of that, learning from mistakes in the spring, and if Adam’s issues were also of the kind that you can do something about (and not just random illness or whatever) then that might be a good sign.
The Case against Adam Yates
First of all, for all his impressive results, he doesn’t actually win much. His only stage race win still remains that Tour of Turkey win in his rookie WT year. And pardon me for saying so but we haven’t really seen Mustafa Sayar and Ivailo Gabrovski up there much in the lists of Tour de France favorites have we? So while he has a string of strong showings in both GTs and weeklong races the idea that he should suddenly be the top guy in the Tour is a bit of a stretch. The margins he’s lost races by this year though are so small that it’s almost negligible so there’s that if we want to think that he has jumped up a level this year.
There is also the issue of team support where Mitchelton have a very clear philosophy which includes focusing on a power squad that mainly guides the leader on the flats and excels at the team timetrial, leaving much more limited manpower for him in the high mountains. The logic behind it is sound and it’s not a bad strategy that many smaller budget teams might do well to follow. But while Haig and Simon Yates are by no means weak in this area it does leave them vulnerable. If Simon struggles after the Giro or something happens to either of the two, as does tend to happen in the TdF, then things can get pretty lonely up front.
The full team is Simon and Jack Haig for the climbs, Hepburn & Durbridge as the big engines, allround helper Juul-Jensen and Impey and Trentin as allround helpers who will no doubt also be used as opportunists to go for stage wins in places where a reduced sprint is a possibility. It’s obviously about as strong a non-Ineos team as you can find. Main surprise to me is Damien Howson missing. I haven’t seen a reason so I interpret it as either he isn’t progressing as well as it looked like he would or the team are electing to hedge their bets a little by including both Impey and Trentin. It does give them a better chance of walking away with something in case Plan Y doesn’t work out as well as hoped.
Why Simon might be better than you think
So what do we have here? An (almost) double GT winner from 2018 who played himself through the spring races, brilliant on days but never committing to tiring GC riding. Goes to the Giro, the big target and is fairly immediately revealed to be sub-par when they get to the mountains, finishes the race still trying but not really flying. Then does nothing but train to come to the Tour in support of Adam. Excuse me for believing that it’s not entirely impossible that a rider like that discovers more form than what is needed to just be a decent climbing domestique. Sure the TdF is closer to the Giro this year but otoh the Giro was nowhere near as grueling for the full three weeks. It was more leg-sapping than anything for the first two weeks and in the third week Yates rode with a bit less pressure in search of a stage win. I’m still no believer in the Giro-Tour double but this is a bit of an odd year. As we’ll be discussing in other previews, stranger things than Simon Yates winning the Tour could happen this year. What needs to happen first though is probably Adam falling seriously out of contention because I doubt the team will be gambling on Simon otherwise, even if say he were to be ahead of his brother after the TT in Pau. I’m sure they will try and keep both in play if at all possible but if any sacrifices need to be made it will not be of Adam in favor of Simon. If my speculation would turn out real and Simon were as fit it could open some fun tactical options for Mitchelton though. Life would suddenly be more complicated for Ineos and whoever else looking to keep things controlled if a fit-looking Simon would start injecting himself into early breakaways or mid-stage attacks. Because like it or not, I think the general consensus is that Simon would be the more dangerous of the two if he started as fresh as his brother. Unless Adam turns the tables here once again and pulls off a podium, then the pendulum swings back his way again perhaps. If he wins, I think we can finally settle the old “Wrong Yates” question (for a year at least).
Three random predictions
- The Mitchelton-Scott team is good but not good enough to win the TTT. No Tuft, no party basically.
- Trentin, Impey & Juul-Jensen are better medium mountain helpers than they get credit for. They will get overshadowed by Moscon and Van Baarle going like motobikes but will still be impressive. In the end, even if Adam would fall short of winning, we will not look at lack of team support as the reason why. If that happens it will be other factors that decide.
- Matteo Trentin will win a stage in this year’s Tour