Mitchelton-Scott cyclist Simon Yates talks to Eurosport about his life in coronavirus lockdown, explains why the Giro d'Italia had been central to his 2020 plans, and says that an Olympic gold medal remains one of his major career goals.
Simon Yates cuts an impressively relaxed figure in the face of seeing his 2020 plans ripped up over the course of the past two months.
The British cyclist had strategised his season well, with a bid for the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo being the peak of his calendar year. But although coronavirus has put paid to that plan, an Olympic title still remains central to the 27-year-old’s thinking.
“It’s one of my main goals, not just for next year but for my whole career,” Yates tells Eurosport. “I have a lot of passion for that, I grew up wanting to be Olympic champ so the passion’s still there and now we have to wait another year to really have a crack.”
A short glance at Yates’ palmares indicates that he will rarely have a better chance of achieving that goal than in Tokyo. The grippy Tokyo course plays into the hands of climbers and those capable of winning from a breakaway, and anyone who watched last year’s Tour de France knows that those two qualities are very much in Yates’ wheelhouse.
His plan had been to target the 2020 Giro in May before making an early journey in Japan to properly acclimatise, but that balance will have to be re-thought after the enforced rescheduling of all professional cycling.
Simon Yates on life in lockdown and why Olympic gold remains a major career goal
Targeting the Giro in itself makes sense for the Mitchelton-Scott rider, who will undoubtedly have an Italian Grand Tour victory in his wishlist, particularly after he famously came within three stages of taking the maglia rosa back in 2018.
But will that attempt still come when the Giro is held in October 2020? Or will he look instead to target the Tour? Those questions are yet to be answered.
“It’s all up in the air at the minute,” Yates says. “I’ve not had the discussion with Whitey and the team to really lay out the rest of the year now. But it’s going to be a very intense period, so many races packed together in such a short period of time, it’s going to be really stressful and intense.
One of the reasons I was going back to the Giro was because I wanted to go to the Olympics and I believed that was the best run-in to the Olympics, to have a big block of racing there and go to Tokyo early and prepare properly, but obviously with the Olympics being next year now that changes things.
“So, I think it’s just really up in the air what I will end up doing this year now and I’ll have these conversation over the next few days, next week or so, to really iron that out, but it’s yet to really be discussed yet.”
With his plans ripped up and his life confined to his Andorran home, Yates is keen to try and take some positives from the situation. Limited primarily to indoor training, he has significantly increased his online training, participating in all hosts of races and group rides, as well as training with good intensity.
Some would find such a quantity of turbo time to be tedious, but the Bury-born Brit says he is more than at home on the indoor trainer.
“Fitness is actually really good. When you ride four hours inside it’s four hours on the pedals whereas if you ride four hours outside you’ve got to do the descents, you stop for lights, you do this and that… so actually general fitness is actually really good. Of course that doesn’t always translate well to racing, but so far so good for me personally fitness wise.
A lot of other riders maybe don’t enjoy the home trainer as much, but I think maybe growing up in the UK, you’ve just got to accept that sometimes you have to ride inside, so for me it’s not been a big problem.
“I’ve used Zwift quite a lot anyway just for riding, but never really getting involved with the races. And they’re tough, they’re really tough, they are very intense. You have to go there ready to race or you’ll be out the back pretty quick, but I’ve been enjoying it and it’s been a good distraction from not being able to race properly outside.”
And it’s not just training that Yates is seeing as a possible positive. The postponement of the season has given him a rare chance to enjoy an extended time with his partner, something he has not had the chance to do at any point previously during his cycling career.
“Really not much has changed other than I’ve got to ride inside, I get my shopping delivered rather than going and getting it, there’s not much we can do.
I’ve been also enjoying my time with my girlfriend because I’ve never been at home for such a long period of time since I’ve been a professional so I’m just making use of this time while I can, because like we’ve just been talking about the end part of the year now is going to be very intense and there’s not going to be any let-up at all, so you’ve got to take your moment when you can.
So will Yates be ready to tackle the packed Autumn schedule when he does work out his own programme, and does such a condensed list of races mean that they will be significantly more competitive?
“I think when racing does start again everybody… that’s their chance to win,” Yates answers. “We’ve not had many chances to race, some people try and peak for different times of the year normally but you know this year it’s going to be really concentrated into one part of the year so all the riders are going to be ready to go, extremely motivated to try and win, and that’s another reason why I think it’s just going to be a very intense period of racing.
“Normally the Grand Tours are extremely physical on their own and then… for example when I’d do a Giro-Vuelta programme you’d have months to recover before you do the next one, but here they’re going to be back-to-back almost. It could have a big effect, I think it really depends what the other riders have been doing. Some guys don’t enjoy riding inside on the home trainer, which could affect them, but I think for me personally I think I’ll be okay. Like I’ve been saying I’ve been getting involved with Zwift and riding inside has been okay, so the condition is fine and we’ll just see once we start racing.”