There was a lot to like about Simon Yates’s win in the Vuelta a España. The best rider won, but Yates’s tactics and the way the race evolved kept the suspense intact to the final weekend. The Brit’s attack on the Coll de la Rabassa summit finish on stage 19 was the headline racewinning effort, but that was built on clever riding beforehand, and the confidence he could back it up on the very hard and complicated stage 20.
But what I like most about it is that it was only a few months after his dramatic, shattering defeat in the Giro d’Italia. In the first grand tour of the year, Yates rode a spectacular and aggressive race, carving seconds out of his rivals seemingly at will in improvised, daring attacks through the first two and half weeks. Yates and his team are still looking for concrete reasons for his sudden concession of the best part of 40 minutes on stage 19, when Chris Froome put in his own incredible race-winning effort. But it’s possible the constant attacking wore him down too much.
Yates could have been forgiven for riding a much more conservative race in Spain, and to an extent he did, though he did make occasional digs, as early as stage 4. But he seemed to manage the accumulated fatigue better in Spain than in Italy, without playing it too safe. His attack on the Rabassa wasn’t planned, so there’s still a lot of the improviser about Yates, it’s just that in Spain his timing was a lot better.
I hope Yates still rides aggressively in the future – he’s a joy to watch in a race, because his moves come from a combination of instinct and experience, rather than a fixed plan and defensive strategy. He’s also an interesting character, on the surface straightforward and unemotional - the opposite of his racing style.
He also brought Britain’s run of grand tour wins to five, including all three this year. He’s making noises about targeting the Giro next year – who’d bet against that run extending to six?