• Adam Yates at the 2018 Tirreno-Adriatico race (Getty)Source: Getty
Adam Yates is ostensibly your typical northern Englishman – pragmatic, succinct and unafraid, writes Sophie Smith who sat down with him on the eve of the 2018 Tour de France.
By
Sophie Smith

Source:
Cycling Central
2 Jul 2018 - 10:07 AM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2018 - 6:07 PM

“He’s always like this – calls a spade a spade,” a Mitchelton-Scott press officer interjects during a sit-down interview with Yates ahead of his imminent title tilt at the Tour de France.

The 25-year-old is flanked by the officer, who he refers to throughout the conversation for validation of prior results, or course features of this year’s Tour in which he’ll make a concerted bid for the podium, bolstered by a change of tact from team management.

Yates’s one missive is that he is a pure racer, generally driven by competition. Cycling takes up the majority of his time otherwise spent fleetingly at home in Andorra, Spain, with a host of other athlete expats.

“I’m not a big thinker, I’m not thinking about who I am racing or what I am doing,” Yates tells Cycling Central.

“You race in the race you turn up to and against the people who turn up. Every race is the same - you’ve just got to try and win. If I’ve got the legs and I’m there, then I’m going to try and win.

“I’ve been like that since I was little. I just enjoy racing, I enjoy trying to win and working hard in training. These days when you have the backing of the team it’s pretty easy to be motivated. You don’t need to force it, you just work hard in training and turn up to a race as best you can.”

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The Briton turned professional with an incarnation of Mitchelton-Scott in 2014 and has feasted on a steady diet of Grand Tours since, finishing ninth at the Giro d’Italia and 34th at the Vuelta a Espana last year. He’s one third of an equation that has changed the team’s general orientation from opportunistic to general classification assaults.

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Yates made his Tour debut in 2015 placing 50th and just 12 months later was fourth overall through consistency and without the burden of outright designs. Asked to explain the significant but unheralded improvement, his drive personifies. The lithe climber gets momentarily fixated if not mildly irritated by the number 50, like it’s a scuff mark on newly purchased shoes.

“Is that what I came? Well, I mean, when you’re not riding GC you can lose a lot of time pretty easy - it’s a lot easier to lose time than it is to gain time,” Yates says, trying to buff out the self-perceived imperfection. “I don’t know what to say there. When you’re going for stages you’re not riding GC, so it doesn’t matter what you finish.”

Yates is confident and has conviction in his own ability. He repeatedly refers to past efforts when asked to describe his standing as anything other than a legitimate three-week stage race contender or reflect on older and comparatively more experienced rivals at the Tour from Saturday.

“I don’t really see myself as a, I don’t want to call it underdog but I’m fighting for the win in almost all the stage races I do now and it’s the same guys, so nothing changes,” Yates says.

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Nothing seems to catch Yates off guard. The arrival to this point of his career – leading a WorldTour team in a Tour bid – has always been the outlook and now the main game. “I’ve always been a climber and if you’re a climber you can pretty much be a GC guy,” he adds.

Mitchelton-Scott this year in a selection and tactical backflip will leave sprinter Caleb Ewan at home, and effectively emulate an approach that has delivered Team Sky to five Tour wins – one leader, one objective, no exceptions.

Ewan camp deals with Tour de France backflip
Mitchelton-Scott created a big surprise in the Tour de France squad announcement, leaving out Caleb Ewan after the young sprinter had previously been assured of a spot on the team.

Sports director Matt White believes the opening nine stages of this year’s Tour, which includes a team time trial, cobbles and rolling roads, could decide the general classification. His squad selection certainly supports that sentiment with pure climbers overlooked for engines in Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn, or classics specialist Mathew Hayman as an example.

“Whitey would say something like a lot of guys are going to be out of GC in the first nine days,” says Yates, who agrees to an extent. “There’s always crosswinds and crashes in the first week, everyone knows it is chaotic. It’s just about limiting your losses and not losing time. If we can do that, a good TTT and get to the cobble stage in a good position on GC then we will see how it is.

“There is one stage [stage six – ed.] to Mur de Bretagne. It’s a two kilometre berg that’s quite steep. If there is a slight hilly stage, there is already going to be an order in the GC as well with the team time trial.”

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Yates is confident his squad can score a “win or get pretty close to the win” on the 35.5km stage three team time trial, which could potentially deliver him or a teammate the yellow jersey early.

“We’re not aiming for any particular stage to try and take the lead but if it happens it happens,” he says. “If I’m honest, it would be beneficial if we didn’t take the jersey early because there are so many flat stages where you can be exposed in the wind, ride and waste energy before the big mountain stages. But if we do end up in the lead, whether with me or someone else in the team, we’re going to honour it and defend it while we can.”

“You race in the race you turn up to and against the people who turn up. Every race is the same - you’ve just got to try and win. If I’ve got the legs and I’m there, then I’m going to try and win.

While Yates’s primary focus in that opening week is on potentially disruptive bergs race organiser ASO froths at, the media has asked more about stage nine to Roubaix. Again, Yates refers to prior experience to denote ability, as well as recent exercises including a recon with former Paris-Roubaix winner Hayman.

“It would be a lot different if it was stage one or two, if it was one or two it would be quite dangerous but by stage nine everyone is a bit tired. It changes the dynamic, so we’ll be fine hopefully,” he says, knocking on a wooden table in front of him.

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Yates will enter the Tour on the back of the Critérium du Dauphiné in which he won a stage and finished second overall behind Geraint Thomas (Sky). The performance followed an ardent return to racing in May at the Tour of California after fracturing his pelvis at the Volta a Catalunya. 

Watch Yates win stage 7 of the 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné

Mitchelton-Scott has placed great emphasis on the opening phase of the race but there is no doubt Yates is backing himself all the way to Paris, and a Sky outfit accustomed to control in the high mountains.

“There’s a lot of short, punchy mountain stages, which would suit me and riders that aren’t afraid to throw it down. The Tour is usually much more controlled so it’s super tricky but again you have to take it day-by-day. It’s not like you can pinpoint one or two stages where you can gain a lot of time, it’s more about a few seconds here and there,” Yates says.

“A lot of the time when you’re a GC climber it’s what you can do on the last climb and how much energy you can save before. We’ll still have a team to look after me and, like I said, you’ve got to perform on the climbs.”