You read it above but I’ll say it again just in case you’ve already lost track. Can Adam Yates learn from his brother’s mistakes to beat Froome at the Tour?
No, of course he can’t. It’s one of those baiting question headlines; this year’s Tour is an all-rounder’s race with a time trial on the penultimate day. But we’ve got your attention now and if all the other metrics aren’t going to expose our tactics, we’d better consider things a little deeper.
Perhaps it’s not so simple anyway. There’s a lot to consider. Adam Yates has been training specifically for the Tour. And it’s not like Simon Yates did a bad time trial at the Giro, is it?
No, in fact, Simon Yates excelled himself in the Giro d’Italia time-trial. It was the cumulative fatigue of three weeks of aggressive racing that eventually took its toll. Yates used up all his powder trying to gain a buffer ahead of the race against the clock and then produced a marvellous defence when it came round.
His eventual downfall in that race was less a mistake than merely a product of youth, inexperience and doing his very best to be in a position of contention in the first place.
It’s not like he was the only one either. Thibaut Pinot, Domenico Pozzovivo and, one could even argue, Tom Dumoulin paid for their early efforts later in the Giro. The Yates twins will do well to note that it happens to the best of ‘em, especially in the early years of Grand Tour contention.
Even Chris Froome, the prime cause and beneficiary of the mass collapse of riders in the third week of the Giro, has almost been there himself. His 2013 and 2015 Tour wins were characterised by grabbing the lead early and then limiting losses as his reserves started to drain on the final few days in the mountains.
And before finishing second in the 2011 Vuelta at the age of 26 with the end of his contract looming, Froome was no real Grand Tour contender at all. The Yates brothers are still to have reached that age and yet have been messing around at the pointy end of Grand Tour classification since 2016.
Still, the best way to avoid that end-of-race feeling, is to get older and ride more Grand Tours. With age and experience, Froome and his support crew have both learnt how to manage an arc of form through a race and gained the confidence to apply that to a bigger picture. In contrast to the earlier wins, his 2017 Tour was characterised by gaining shape throughout the race to be at his best in the third week. Remember how everyone thought he was losing his grip mid-race?
It was only thanks to this ostensibly risky strategy – and, it is also hypothesised but contested, possibly a few too many puffs on an inhaler – that he was then able to hold out for a long sought-after win in the Vuelta several weeks later.
Little wonder Team Froome are adopting a similar strategy in their 2018 Giro-Tour double attempt. Whether they’re overstepping boundaries to do that remains the topic of much ill-informed speculation. But the one thing any Tour challenger might take from this, is that Froome, though now a proven expert at form management (and far more an all-rounder than he used to be), could be battling to hold that condition as the finale of the 2018 Tour approaches.
How Adam Yates can learn from Froome is, of course, not the question we asked in our filthy attention-grabbing headline. Another problem with our title is it implicitly assumes one Yates is easily comparable with another. While it’s true that they are identical twins and thus of similar builds and physiology, there are subtle variations in their riding characteristics.
Simon Yates cut his teeth on British Cycling’s Academy programme. He was a world points champion on the track and is perhaps a little more explosive, a little more versatile, maybe more of an all-rounder than Adam. Should he in fact have been Mitchelton-Scott’s man for this year’s varied Tour parcours?
Adam typically has a bit more facial hair. He has the better final result of the two in the Tour, finishing fourth in 2016 to Simon’s seventh place a year later. He earned his spurs racing on the French amateur circuit. A purer climber, he has a greater need to try and win alone. But his record in one-day racing demonstrates killer instinct and an ability that’s not just limited to the high mountains.
From the same distant viewpoint that everyone else seems to be making rash analysis of the race, I’d proffer that had Adam Yates ridden the Giro, he might not have time-trialled as well as his brother, but possibly would have gone better on the Finestre.
And would his sticking power have been superior over the course of three weeks? I’m not going to go to the trouble of supporting this with anecdote, but a hunch says Adam is slightly less prone to suffering the catastrophic off day. Shut up, hunch.
Here’s one more problem with our dumb headline: Chris Froome will be far from the only rival for the twin brother of Simon Yates come the Tour. There’ll be time-trial specialist Dumoulin, all-terrain vehicle Vincenzo Nibali and, racing for the love of it, Romain Bardet. Oh, and if he ends up getting a ban, there may be no Chris Froome at all.
So if we were going to ask a better question, maybe it should be this: what lessons should Chris Froome have learnt from Simon Yates’ mistakes to beat his brother Adam at the Tour?
And the answer to that really is simple: you can’t be too careful with your asthma medication.