There’s no doubt that Adam Yates is in flying form. You only have to have watched his dominant performance on the climb to Vallter 2000 this week to know that. His Pyrenean attack saw him win the stage and take the overall lead in the Volta a Catalunya – which he never relinquished from there on until Barcelona.
On Sunday, Yates was crowned overall winner, after a classic Thomas De Gendt solo breakaway took the final stage victory. Yates’ closest ‘rivals’ in the overall were his Ineos teammates – Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas. The Aussie and Welshman secured second and third overall on GC making it a clean podium sweep for the British squad.
In fourth overall, the man who looked closest to upsetting the Ineos apple cart was Alejandro Valverde – but the journeyman was not able to put any daylight at all between he and Yates as the favourites sprinted it out for the minor places on the final stage.
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It has been a magnificent centenary edition of the Volta, a true feast for the eyes with plenty of enthralling battles for the stage honours, but the field has been weaker when it comes to pure GC talent than some other recent stage races.
If there is one reason not to get too excited at this point in the season, it’s the fact that while yes, Ineos and Yates have dominated, they have not been tested in northern Spain against the very best of the WorldTour.
Tadej Pogačar is resting ahead of the Basque Country. Primož Roglič is licking his wounds somewhere after a brutal Paris-Nice loss on the last day. Mikel Landa, like Pogačar, is preparing for the stage race in his homeland, while Julian Alaphilippe – not quite and out-and-out GC man – was too busy battling it out with Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel at Milan-San Remo to take the start in Calella.
Arguably, the four best stage racers on the start list of Catalunya were on the Ineos roster, with 2019 Giro champ Richard Carapaz playing the role of domestique super-deluxe to the other three.
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So where does this Catalunya win put Yates and his career ambitions?
At the start of the season, Ineos principal Sir Dave Brailsford announced the team’s plan to have Yates lead at the Vuelta a España. La Vuelta has always been treated as the dustbin of ambitions by the major stage racing teams, a place to go and try to get a result for those who underperformed at either the Giro or the Tour – so it was both positive and refreshing to hear a leading team like Ineos speak of having clearly planned goals for who would lead their squad as early as February.
Yates’ impressive Volta victory proves he can win WorldTour stage races outside the UAE, but it also raises questions about his form for the season. We know that riders build to a peak, then try to stay there as long as they can before performances tail off. We have seen masterful examples of it, like Froome at the Giro in 2018, but also we have seen riders burn themselves out too soon in a season – like Nairo Quintana attempting the Giro-Tour double and coming away with a very underwhelming 12th at the Tour in 2017.
What we don’t know is how being at this level so soon in the year will effect Yates’ performances later. Will Sir Dave be tempted to chuck Yates into the Giro or even the Tour as a support rider, to try and capitalise on what are clearly fantastic legs? Or can we be even more optimistic and wonder if Yates still has further to build before reaching his top level.
There is certainly no let-up in the immediate future for Yates. He heads to the GP Miguel Indurain, a hilly one-dayer in Spain, next weekend, before keeping the Iberian flavour to his season by starting Itzulia in the Basque Country a couple of days later. At the latter, he will go head-to-head with the aforementioned Super Slovenians, and we’ll get a much clearer idea of where his level is.
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