After a thrilling day against the clock for the participants of the 105th Giro d’Italia, the stand-out performance is undoubtedly that of the eventual victor, Team BikeExchange Jayco’s British GC hopeful Simon Yates. The astonishing speed shown by Simon Yates on the stage 2 time trial is a gauntlet thrown in the direction of his GC rivals. It lays down a marker and proves that the Lancastrian climber has more to offer than pure climbing skills. On a day in which attention was focused more on the wearer of the maglia rosa, Mathieu van der Poel, the business of scoring as many seconds of time advantage as possible was foremost on Yates’ agenda.
In the 9.2km challenge in Budapest, Yates recorded the fastest time of 11.50 to take the fifth Giro stage victory of his career, and move himself up to second in the general classification, 11 seconds behind van der Poel, who finished second. With the Dutch rider unlikely to present a significant challenge to Yates and the rest of the GC contenders in the long-run, Yates could rightly consider himself maglia rosa-in waiting, as the race heads for a final flat stage in Hungary before departing for Italian soil.
GC riders have always had to prove themselves over a variety of terrains, and although this year’s Giro features the fewest time trial kilometres of any grand tour for the past 20 years, Yates’ strong form against the clock will still cause consternation to his rivals. With a final stage time trial looming on the horizion, Yates could feasibly claw back any losses incurred in the intervening mountain stages.
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While Yates may have surprised many by rising to the top on today’s stage, the result did not come completely out of the blue. Yates himself and team DS Matt White have both spoken recently about the change in approach which has seen the team improve their time trial performances. Earlier in the spring at Paris-Nice, Yates showed off this improvement, coming 5th in amongst the likes of Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert and Rohan Dennis.
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Yates has history with time trials at Paris-Nice. The Race to the Sun was in fact the location of Yates’ only other career time trial win in 2019. Yates came second on the opening time trial at the Giro that year and suffered a tailing off in form by the third week, an echo of his previous dismal final week in 2018. That year he won three stages, before a time trial on stage 16 triggered a downward spiral which saw him finish in 20th position in the final standings.
It’s a problem that team manager Matt White insists has been better managed this time around, and with the improvement in Yates’ time trialing shifting the pressure onto the shoulders of the likes of Richard Carapaz and Joao Almeida, today’s result will provide a major confidence boost for the team and their leader.
Another team who have spent significant resource on their time trial offering, Jumbo Visma also performed well on stage two, with five riders making the top 25 overall. For their co-leader Tom Dumoulin, while he wasn’t able to come away with the stage win, his top three performance – which translates to third place in the overall classification – stands him in good stead going forward in the race.
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The Dutch rider has always been at home riding against the clock, proving his pedigree with an Olympic silver medal right after his return to competitive racing after a period away from the sport early in 2021. The Jumbo Visma man has been off the pace so far this season in terms of his climbing form, but following a reportedly successful period at altitude, a self-confessed ‘happy’ Dumoulin today launched his GC campaign with a positive showing in his favoured discipline to put himself in contention.
The reality of whether either rider has the staying power to endure the rigours of three weeks at arguably the toughest of the grand tours will become apparent as they go deeper into the race. It remains to be seen whether the current psychological – and practical – advantages will translate into positive outcomes for either Yates or Dumoulin.
With the time trial performance of his career under his belt, Yates will undoubtedly strike fear into his rivals with this early display of strength. With 27 seconds in hand over Richard Carapaz it certainly shifts the onus onto other teams to attack in the mountains, and should lead to an open and exciting race for the neutral viewer. For Dumoulin, the psychological advantage remains his own for now. If he can show the climbing form he displayed in his Sunweb days, and which led him to a second place finish at the Tour de France in 2018, he too might be capable of springing a surprise as the race ascends into the mountains.
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