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.

 

Giro Notebok: What Happened to EF-Drapac’s Climbers, Dumoulin’s Mistake and Where Does Simon Yates Go From Here?

The 2018 Giro d’Italia featured one of the most dramatic comebacks, and meltdowns, in modern cycling history. After a slow-burn GC picture over the first two weeks, the race exploded on the 19th stage, with Chris Froome attacking solo from 80 kilometers out to win the stage and take the race lead after being all but written off as a potential winner. This historic comeback (we won’t get into the believability of the performance or the ethics of Froome’s participation at this time) capped off an already thrilling race that leaves me with a few burning questions.

I’m sure I was the only person thinking “what the hell happened to EF Education First-Drapac’s lineup of supposed up and coming climbers” during the most thrilling GC comeback in the modern history of the sport. But seriously, what happened? The “American” team came into the race touting a collection of potential stage (and even possibly overall) winners with Joe Dombrowski, Hugh Carthy, and Michael Woods, only to go home empty-handed on all fronts.

Dombrowski signed with Team Sky in 2013 and was hailed as the next great American climber. He turned in a few promising climbing performances at the 2016 Giro d’Italia but has failed to show the same form since. He is often cited as a young rider and given quite a bit of leeway for his sub-par performances, but he is 27, which is two years older than Simon Yates and the same age as 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin. With an incredibly narrow set up skills, time is running out for Drombrowski to show himself a viable grand tour stage winner.

Carthy is still a legitimate young rider at the age of 23. While he got into a few long-range breakaways on mountains stages, these moves seemed oddly timed and slightly desperate. A pure-bred climber like himself should be tucked in the group when the GC contenders are certainly going to pull the early breakaway back and race all-out for the stage win. Carthy also has a concerning trend of coming into races below an optimal performance weight. He would most likely be better off putting on a few kilograms to produce a little bit more power and strengthen his immune system.

Woods came into the Giro touted as an outside contender for the overall win and probable stage winner. He came close to a stage win on stage 4, but that proved to be the high water mark of his race. His EF team displayed odd tactics by burning significant energy to launch him 70km from the finish line (Sky must have been taking notes). That move obviously didn’t work and Woods was dropped soon after he was caught 30km later and the team was left with nothing to show for their huge energy expenditure. I can’t help but feel there was a better use of Woods’ talents than using the entire team to launch a doomed-to-fail desperation move. A high GC finish seemed to be in the cards early on, but an illness in the final week tanked his overall standing. Woods came into the Giro looking extremely skinny, which paid off on the steep uphill finishes, but likely contributed to his late-race illness.

Speaking of long-range attacks, what was Tom Dumoulin thinking when Froome attacked from 80km out? He certainly thought it would be impossible for a single rider to stay away for the rest of the stage, but he picked the absolute worst composition of riders to attempt to chase back to Froome with.

Froome attacked with 80km left in the stage and quickly established a large, but manageable gap.

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By the time he crested the summit of the Finestre 7km later, he had a lead of 37 seconds over a group of chasers that included Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot, Miguel Angel Lopez and Richard Carapaz.

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When Froome hit the bottom of the descent 20km later, his lead was at 1:23. Pulling out close to a minute on Dumoulin during this descent would prove to be the difference that would eventually allow him to win the overall.

How did Dumoulin, a rider with immense descending skills, let Froome get so much? His first grave mistake was sitting up to wait for Pinot when he was suffered a mechanical on the Finestre. Distancing Pinot over the top of the climb would have incentivized Lopez and Carapaz to work with Dumoulin in an attempt to push Pinot off the podium. His second mistake was waiting for Pinot’s teammate, Sebastien Reichenbach on the descent. Reichenbach added valuable horsepower to the group, but the time it cost to wait for him on the descent likely cost Dumoulin a second Giro title.

Simon Yates rode an incredible 18 stages, only to stumble and lose the race in fantastic fashion on the 19th stage. He exhibited a stunning meltdown on the race’s penultimate mountain stage and ended up losing 38 minutes by the end of the stage. The Briton wasn’t able to recover the following day and was relegated to the groupetto the following day. His collapsed mirrored that of his teammate, Esteban Chaves, who lost 25 minutes on stage 10, a transition stage that only featured mild climbs. Both of these stunning meltdowns were written off the Mitchelton-Scott team as “bad days,” but neither Chaves or Yates was able to recover and couldn’t hold pace on the climbs for the rest of the race. These weren’t mere stumbles, but extremely concerning trends that raise questions about their abilities to compete for wins in three-week races in the future.

Dumoulin cracked on stage 20 of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, and fell out of the overall lead with one day left to race. He was able to recover from the late-race collapse by going on to win the 2017 Giro d’Italia.  However, there are major differences between Dumoulin’s bumble and Yates’ epic loss. Dumoulin only lost 3:52 to eventual winner Fabio Aru and went on to finish 6th place overall. This stands in stark difference to the historical fumble that befell Yates. His Mitchelton-Scott team is saying all the rights things to the press, but it will be interesting to see how much they hedge their chances during the Briton’s GC campaigns going forward. Another big talent, Richie Porte, suffered from the same type of inconsistency in grand tours and was never able to string together a successful campaign. With the new reduced team sizes, teams won’t have the luxury of taking chances on unproven entities year after year, which raises the stakes for the mid-race bobbles.

 

Can Simon Yates Win the Giro? It Depends on His Ability to Limit His Losses In The Time Trial.

Simon Yates heads into the second week of the Giro d’Italia with a 38-second lead over 2017 champion Tom Dumoulin. While Yates currently has the pleasure of wearing the Maglia Rosa of the race leader, if he wants to be crowned the overall winner in Rome on stage 21, he needs to race every mountain stage as if he had time to make up. The looming 34.2km individual time trial on stage 16 rips down the Adige valley in the Dolomites and will serve as an opportunity for Dumoulin to pull back significant time. We all know that Dumoulin will get time back on Yates, but the million dollar question is exactly how much time Yates will concede. If he can survive the barrage from the big time trial specialist, he will likely emerge victorious at the end of the three-weeks.

Triangulating an accurate estimate is difficult, because like two ships passing in the night, Yates and Dumoulin haven’t met head-to-head in many individual time trials. A cursory glance will show us that since 2015, they have faced off on six occasions, with Dumoulin taking an average of 2.68 seconds per kilometer out of Yates. However, this sample is somewhat tainted by the time trial from at 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour, where Dumoulin suffered a mechanical and was forced to change bikes mid-race. If we take this race out of our sample, Dumoulin has taken 2.89 seconds per kilometer out of Yates.

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When we extrapolate this average per-kilometer difference out to 34.2km, the distance of the final time trial at the 2018 Giro, Yates stands to lose 92-seconds in the race against the clock. Keep in mind that none of these previous meetings feature a course longer than 18km, and the longer, straighter and flatter the course, the more time per kilometer the stronger time trialist will be able to take.

Yates has seen mild improvement in his time trialing ability in recent seasons and managed to limit his loses in the opening time trial of the 2018 Giro d’Italia to 2.06 seconds. This course featured technical corners and downhill sections, so it isn’t a one-to-one comparison to the wide-open course the race will see on stage 16. But, if we use the most recent data we have and stick to the 2.06-second difference from the opening stage, Yates could feasibly limit his losses to 70-seconds.

Yates has said that Dumoulin could easily take two to three minutes out of him, and while that statement feels when you first hear it, the limited numbers we access have to don’t back it up. If Yates can limit his losses to between one and two minutes, he certainly has a legitimate chance of winning the overall if he can continue to take precious seconds on the remaining uphill finishes. Even if he losses 90 seconds to Dumoulin in the TT, he is likely to take time from Dumoulin on the brutally steep Monte Zoncolan, and stages 15, 19, 20 all feature multiple climbs leading into an uphill finish, which present great opportunities for Yates to slip away and put time into the big Dutchman.

Of course, Dumoulin was in a similar position during last year’s Giro, and most expected the time trial specialist to lose serious time to the climbers once the race hit the mountains. Instead, he stuck with the best climbers and even put time into them on the Oropa summit finish on his way to a definitive victory. Lurking outsiders like Thibaut Pinot and Domenico Pozzovivo can’t be ruled out, but the final week appears to be on track for a Dumoulin/Yates head-on-head collision. Part 2 of this piece will attempt to estimate how much time Yates stands to take from Dumoulin the Giro’s mountainous final week and if the Dutchman has a chance of holding on to the jersey if he ends up taking it back on the stage 16 time trial.