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Simon Yates at the 2024 Tour de France team presentation

As Simon Yates knows well, races like the Tour de France often come down to mere luck

Staying in a Grand Tour in good condition can be as important as your build-up to it.

by Daniel Benson 28.06.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) went through a hellish spring, spending two weeks in bed with illness and then running out of road and time as he set about rescuing the first part of the year.

He’s now back, however, and on a mission to challenge for the Tour de France podium once more, in what will likely be his final Tour outing as a Jayco rider. The recent spate of COVID-19 cases in the peloton means that ‘luck’ could be a major element in whether the British climber can reach his goals this summer. 

Yates is of course no stranger to COVID-ending episodes at races having been forced out of the Giro d’Italia in 2020 and the 2022 Vuelta a España because of the virus. COVID has remained ever-present in races over the last few years but the numbers have appeared to increase in recent weeks with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) overcoming a bout last week, and Sepp Kuss (Visma-Lease a Bike) ruled out of the race entirely after coming down with the virus. 

“It’s always a risk, it’s always a risk. To be honest last year [at the Tour] it was one of the reasons as to why I managed to finish so well, because I didn’t have any problems with illness and injury. I had one small crash early but I bounced back from that relatively fine. I didn’t have any muscle problems or anything like that,” Yates told Escape Collective in an exclusive call on Friday morning.

Some teams have begun to reintroduce their own level of COVID protocols in the lead up to the Tour de France but so far race organizers ASO have not weighed in on the matter. That might change once the race starts and if cases begin to spike but given the importance of remaining virus free during a Grand Tour, it’s surely only a matter of time before more and more teams begin to address the returning issue. For Yates, it’s a matter of dealing with the situation, and crossing his fingers. 

“It’s one of those where you’re obviously very aware of COVID but at the same time the world has moved on. No one is wearing a mask or anything, there are no protocols anywhere, so it’s almost down to luck at that point. Hopefully luck is on my side,” he said.

Jayco-AlUla at the 2024 Tour de France team presentation.

The 31-year-old came through the recent Tour de Suisse in 11th place overall, a result that represented a sizeable improvement after a spring that was wrecked by illness. Yates won the AlUla Tour back in February but on the way back to Europe picked up a bug that kept him in bed for two straight weeks. He returned to racing later in the spring but having lost so much ground to his rivals, was unable to find his top form ahead of the Tour.

“It depends how far back you want to go. Of course I had a horrible spring. After Saudi [AlUla Tour], which is a very important race for the team, which I managed to pull off, I got sick and was bed-bound for two weeks. I just lost way too much training and way too much fitness. That ruined my spring, unfortunately. It was one of the worst illnesses that I’ve had for a while. Hopefully there are no other effects now and I’m fully healthy. It was the flu, a bit of everything, and although I didn’t go positive for COVID, it wasn’t easy to deal with,” he said.

After finishing fourth overall in Paris last year, however, Yates returns to the biggest race of the year with his spirits high and form on the rise. He will target the podium once more but is aware that the team’s goals are stretched beyond his own ambitions. According to Yates, that’s a good place to be in, as it spreads the pressure and doesn’t leave him feeling as though the squad’s fortunes entirely rest on his shoulders.

”We start with the aim of going for the podium. We can always assess later down the road. If you fall out of contention with sickness or injury, and then those plans can go out of the window but then there’s still a long way to go and we can adjust the goal posts as we go along but the main target is GC,” he said.

“I enjoy that. For me, that’s a better atmosphere,” he said when asked about sharing leadership duties with sprinter Dylan Groenewegan and all-rounder Michael Matthews. 

“You know, let’s say my time has come and gone of going to a Grand Tour with a full team around me. Not to keep harping on about it, but there’s been a lot of bad luck, a lot of sickness, so those sprint days where they’re looking after Dylan or Bling, that’s actually quite nice for me to take a back seat and not deal with the pressure of having the whole team on your shoulders. I can let them do their thing, and I can stay quiet and do my own thing,” he said.

“I think the form is very similar to last year. We’ll see when the race starts. It’s always good to bang out good numbers in training but you need to do it in the race. That’s when it really matters. Hopefully, I feel good, but you never know. I’ll just try and do my best, I can’t control the others and what they do. I’ll just try and be as well prepared as possible and see how that goes.”

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