• Simon Yates pre Vuelta Press Conference in Malaga, Spain. (Getty)Source: Getty
It was close but no cigar for Simon Yates at this year's Giro d'Italia. Will that disappointment fuel him to Mitchelton-Scott’s first ever Grand Tour triumph at the 2018 Vuelta a España?
Kieran Pender

Cycling Central
26 Aug 2018 - 11:11 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2018 - 11:21 AM

It is understandable if Mitchelton-Scott director Matt White harbours lingering pain from the 2018 Giro d’Italia.

On Stage 19 of the Italian epic in May, White watched as Simon Yates cracked. Until that point the Brit looked indefatigable during three stage wins and two weeks in the pink jersey. 

The team's first-ever grand tour victory was within grasp. Then suddenly, for the second time in three years, it slipped through outstretched fingers.

But three months later, at the beginning of the Vuelta a España, White shows no sign of disappointment.

“We can walk away from that with confidence,” he declares in a hotel lobby ahead of the first stage. “That’s as deep as Simon has ever gone in his career.”

Despite his Giro ending sourly, the Englishman impressed all season.    

The 26-year-old finished second overall at Paris-Nice and the Tour de Pologne, winning stages at both. He placed fourth at Volta a Catalunya, again collecting line honours.

“Simon has had an incredible year,” muses White.

And it’s not over yet.

Seeing red 

Yates arrived in Spain earlier this week with his eyes firmly on the Vuelta a España red jersey.

With Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas skipping the race, Vincenzo Nibali reportedly targeting the world championships, Richie Porte’s form unclear and Nairo Quintana lacking confidence, Yates could fill the 2018 Vuelta's general classification vacuum. 

La Vuelta 2018 Stage 1 ITT: Simon Yates

His performance in the 8km ITT on Saturday has certainly done his hopes no harm, finishing 29 seconds behind stage winner Rohan Dennis and ahead of key rivals Quintana, Nibali and Porte.

Dennis takes the short and fast route to Vuelta red
Rohan Dennis did what he does best on the opening stage of this year's Vuelta a España, time trialling to victory and into the first red leader's jersey of the race after an impressive performance on the streets of Malaga.

While the days ahead feature climbs aplenty, Yates may not make a decisive move until later in the three-week tour following criticism of Mitchelton-Scott's approach at the Giro. Taking the pink jersey so early put the team under overwhelming pressure to retain it all the way to Rome.

White admits his team’s early exertions in Italy ultimately took their toll.

“We knew going up against Domoulin and Froome we needed to take time,” he reflects. “We did, but it came at a price.”

While arguably the peloton in Spain lacks the same quality, biding time until the race enters the mountains of the Asturias region might prove helpful to Yates.

Climbs like the one to Lagos de Covadonga on Stage 15 – previously conquered by the Robert Millar and Lucho Herrera – will provide ample opportunity for Yates to make his mark.

“We’ll change our tactics a bit at the Vuelta,” says White.

If those tweaks pay off, Yates has every chance of winning the iconic red jersey.

With brother Adam, rising star Jack Haig, ever-reliable Damien Howson and Australian national champion Alexander Edmondson among those supporting him, Yates can call on one of the strongest squads in the fatigued peloton.

He demonstrated in Italy he can go pedal for pedal with the best climbers in the world. And with that experience under his belt, Yates will take some beating over the coming weeks.

If – or perhaps when – Simon Yates or his brother Adam win Mitchelton-Scott’s first-ever grand tour, it will vindicate a decision made by White in 2013.

“Australia in the past hasn’t generally produced many climbers,” the sports director explains.

“There’s a wave of guys coming through now, but four years ago there were none. So we started to look elsewhere.”

After unsuccessfully trying to lure Porte to the team, Mitchelton-Scott decided to think outside the box by signing the Yates brothers.

The rest is history. Simon has won the Tour de France white jersey (2017) and stages at the Giro and Vuelta; Adam finished fourth at the Tour in 2016 (and the white jersey) and second at the 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné.

Recently the brothers re-signed with Mitchelton-Scott for another two years.

“It is really pleasing,” says White. “They have confidence in us and we have confidence in them.”

Confidence that, having come so close at the Giro, Yates can go even better in Spain.