Giro Diary: The Mysterious Case of Simon Yates’ Form and Post-Stage Trainer Workouts

Simon Yates hinted in an interview with The Cycling Podcast following a disastrous performance in the Stage 9 time trial that his lack of form could be due to detraining following his pre-race taper combined with the incredibly easy racing in the first half of the race. Since Yates declared himself the outright favorite and claimed his rivals should be shitting themselves with fear in the days leading into the race, one presumes that he possessed incredible form. Just over a week later, we were all left asking where that form had gone.

It is hard to imagine that a week of ‘easy’ riding (remember, they are riding close to full gas for the last 20-30 minutes to hold their position for the finish) contributed to a significant lack of form, especially since every rider in the race is subject to the same circumstance.

But with the 14 days between the start of the race and the first mountain stage, it begs the questions of it was a better idea to come into the Giro fatigued from training vs tapered and rested. Yates seemed to hint that his taper plus the easy days detrained him and was a mistake.

Lionel Birnie of The Cycling Podcast proposed (half-jokingly and knowing how crazy the idea sounded) potentially going back to the team hotel for an hour-long workout after the stage. Somewhat shockingly, when Birnie floated this idea to Sunweb coach Matt Winston, it wasn’t immediately shot down and Winston seemed to genuinely consider it a viable idea.

However, this approach seems incredibly misguided, as the name of the game in a grand tour is minimizing the total work you do over three weeks. In theory, you would never want to add riding time to three consecutive 30-hour weeks. However, in today’s cycling, where teams are chasing any ‘marginal gain’ (whether they actually help or not) it isn’t particularly difficult to imagine this actually happening.

Just because it could happen doesn’t mean it is a particularly good idea. A major issue is that despite what the roadbook says, it is impossible to predict the events or difficulty of a stage before it happens. There is the possibility of doing a hard workout on the trainer following an ‘easy’ stage, and then an unforeseen incident like a flat, crash, or crosswind echelon occur the following day and the rider’s legs are tired from the workout and make them unable to ride at the necessary intensity and see them lose significant time.

Furthermore, we have heard ad nauseum that Simon Yates spectacular collapse at the end of last year’s Giro was due to doing too much work in the early stages of the race. Thus, it seems somewhat insane to purposely replicate that same scenario. At the end of the day, the goal of a rider in a Grand Tour should be to do the least amount of work as possible whenever possible. The amount of work they will need to perform in the future will only be known when said future arrives, and how their body will react is equally unknown, so it is imperative to save as much energy as possible for the unknown future expenditures.

If a rider was really concerned about losing conditioning during a grand tour, they could strategically put their nose in the wind in the final 40km, or god, forbid, actually try to split the field and take time.

This begs the question of if we are thinking about this the wrong way. The overanalysis of this problem has smart people considering having a rider do extra training outside of the race, instead of riding harder in the race in an attempt to gain time on one’s opponents to, you know, actually win the race.

Since Yates blamed the easy first week as well as his taper prior to the race for his lackluster form at the Stage 9 TT. A potential bulwark against fitness atrophy would be to enter the race with red-hot form, or even slightly overextended, and then use the easy first week to allow your body to ‘rest’ before it enters the mountains. The race course has been public for a while and these neverending days of laid back riding should not be a surprise to Yates and his Mitchelton team.

I’ve been slightly concerned if Roglic can hold the incredible form he displayed in weeks prior, but in retrospect, I wonder if this was actually a calculated strategy to take time in the early tests and use the docile first half to let his body recover. By next week, we will know if Roglic was savy to come into the race so fit or if he has completely overshot the target.

The fact remains that nothing is guaranteed in a Grand Tour and the race profile isn’t necessarily indicative of the importance or difficulty of a stage. Treating a multi-dimensional and incredibly dynamic stage race like a static training lab is the height of cycling hubris and would likely result in unintended consequences and public embarrassment.

Still, don’t be surprised when we hear the hum of trainers coming from the riders’ hotel rooms following stages at the next Grand Tour.


Week 1 Giro d’Italia Diary: Roglic Looks like a Blast From the Past in a Throwback First Week

Stage 9:

Nine Stages into the Giro d’Italia, Primoz Roglic is riding a la Indurain* and an eventual victory in two weeks is looking more and more likely by the day. The Slovenian pummeled his GC competition in the stage 9 time trial. Simon Yates entered the stage looking to keep his losses to Roglic under a minute but instead hemorrhaged 3:11 over the 34.8km course. Most disturbingly for Yates, most of his losses came on the climb, his preferred terrain and where he was counting on putting serious time into Roglic in the third week. Roglic is the fastest rider on the flats, climbs and time trials, which my model tells me is critical when trying to win a bike race.

After Yates’ TT meltdown, Vincenzo Nibali looks like the only rider able to challenge Roglic since he was able to limit his losses to 1:05 in the TT, keeping his deficit at 1:44, and possess valuable experience and third-week killer instinct.

However, it feels odd to be declaring anything since the race has yet to enter the mountains. Race organizer Mauro Vegni chose to throw us back into the 90s by making us wade through ten sprint stages and two time trials before hitting any mildly interesting terrain.

Despite the lack of inclines, we’ve seen Roglic put serious time into his rivals at every opportunity and have seen a major pre-race favorite, Dumoulin, leave the race, and another, Yates, face significant time losses.

While anything can happen at the Giro, and some may point to Froome overcoming a 3:22 deficit on stage 19 as proof that this race isn’t over, this type of comeback likely won’t be possible unless Roglic suffers a tragic crash. Nibali was only able to come back from 4:33 down in the final week of the 2016 Giro due to a Kruijswijk crash and Froome relied on a massive tactical error in 2018 (Dumoulin sitting up to wait for Sebastian Reichenbach, which allowed the lead balloon from 40-seconds to a few minutes). Dumoulin’s grip on the 2017 Giro only loosened slightly when he had to pull over for an emergency poo at the base of one of the most critical climbs in the race.

Roglic appears to have a champions’ ‘cool-under-pressure demeanor’ and likely won’t be frazzled in the final week. Having said that, he doesn’t have a particularly strong or experienced team, and he entered the race with red-hot form. 14 days will have passed between the opening stage and the first major mountain stage, and all that riding through the rain and cold could send Roglic sliding down the other side of the fitness pyramid.

*Yes, Roglic doesn’t actually hold the leader’s jersey at the moment, but we all know that Valerio Conti is nothing but a puppet regime installed by Roglic and his Jumbo junta.

Other notes from the first week:

Stage 7:

Pello Bilbao gets in the breakaway, wins the stage and takes over a minute on the other GC favorites. He is now sitting best of the rest, 1:42 behind Roglic. The Basque climber is a bit of a Grand Tour enigma, but he could find himself leading the race if Roglic puts a foot wrong.

Why did Mitchelton send Lucas Hamilton in the breakaway on stage 7? Seems like a waste of precious energy that could be used when the race enters the high mountains

This runs contrary to the team’s tactics last year, where they used the entire team to peg back every breakaway, and certainly burns less aggregate energy, but is still burning up a valuable domestique. If Yates was truly confident, they would run the Sky model of no stage-wins. Knowing what we know now about his lackluster form or possible illness, was this a sign that he didn’t feel 100% confident and a young rider was let off the leash in an attempt to get something out of the race? Or is he so confident that his hubris is once again making him burn team energy unnecessarily?

This decision looked even worse after Hamilton failed to win the stage. That is a LOT of energy for a valuable domestique to burn.

UAE Team Emirates’ Incredibly Strange Week:

Stage 3: Fernando Gaviria is beaten by Elia Viviani in the sprint. Viviani is later suspended and Gaviria is given the stage win.
Stage 4: Had a rider leave the race due to suspicious blood values (found via internal testing)
Stage 6: Valerio Conti gets in the breakaway, is beaten at the finish line, gets second place and takes the leader’s jersey.
Stage 7: Gaviria abandons the race

Get a ‘stage win,’ hold leader’s jersey, but also fail to have a rider cross the line in first place and have a rider leave the race under suspicion of doping. Talk about the ultimate mixed bag.

Stage 1-9:

These long, throwback spring stages, while boring, are certainly taking their toll on the riders. Combine this with the cold and rainy weather, and they will hit the mountains with a significant amount of fatigue. Expect to see to a few days of big time losses from a few major favorites late in this race.

The Upcoming Tour de France Gets More Interesting by the Day

Back in January, I wrote that the Giro d’Italia had the potential to outshine the Tour de France in 2019. With a large field of exciting young talent and the (in)famously chaotic and unpredictable Italian terrain, the Giro seemed poised to topple the Tour, which has become a bit of a snoozefest in recent years.

When that original piece was written, the 2018 Tour de France runner-up Tom Dumoulin and 21-year old Egan Bernal were both targeting the Giro d’Italia. However, Dumoulin was forced to leave the Giro following a crash on stage 4. While this seriously dampened the fight for the general classification in Italy,  it adds fuel to the Tour’s GC fire.

Meanwhile, Egan Bernal ‘broke’ his collarbone a week before the start of the Giro. This means he will likely line up as a legitimate leader of Team INEOS’, who are already struggling to balance the ambitious of last year’s winner Geraint Thomas and 4-time winner Chris Froome.

There were mummers that the Colombian sensation would be lining up at the Tour all the way back in March. I believe this was the INEOS team brass sending up a trial balloon as they looked for an insurance policy as their aging superstar duo struggled through their worst spring campaigns in years.

Since Bernal is already back on the bike and setting PRs on training climbs less than two weeks after breaking his collarbone, it is safe to assume he is going to line up at the Tour de France (which features a route perfect for Bernal with a high-altitude, numerous climbs and a mere 27km of TTs).

I personally subscribe to the fringe conspiracy theory that Bernal and INEOS faked the collarbone break as cover to duck the Giro and get their best climber at the Tour without seriously damaging Thomas’ and Froome’s egos (who have both been quietly struggling to find form in recent months). Bernal’s incredibly quick recovery could potentially support this crackpot idea (release the x-rays!).

All of this combines to give us a fantastically dramatic backdrop for this summer’s Tour. Having three legitimate contenders on one team will be thrilling to watch and could potentially dull the team’s unmatchable strength. The INEOS riders give all the right answers through gritted smiles, but the tension will simmer under the surface and they will have to make due will fewer domestiques and team organization in critical moments (see: Froome’s lack of a full team while chasing after his crash on stage 1 of the 2018 Tour).

The addition of fresh (and hopefully healthy) Dumoulin, the best GC rider under the age of 30, makes this even more interesting. Dumoulin’s focus on the Giro was always a strange fit since he won the race back in 2017 and seems poised to take the title of the best grand tour rider on the planet from Froome. His preparation for the Giro seemed off and it felt like he was hedging to leave something for the Tour, while Primoz Roglic came in red, red, hot, and looks impossible to beat at the moment. The only way he can advance his career and raise his profile is a Tour de France title, so as sad as it is to see him drop off of the Giro, this short-term loss could pay major dividends in July.