Journalists aren’t supposed to have favourites. But in this era of sponsored content, affiliate marketing (btw: have you seen our t-shirts?) and newspapers as playthings for dot.com billionaires, even if you work for the BBC you’ll be accused of biases regardless.
So I’m going to say it: I’m enjoying the general success of Mitchelton-Scott at the Giro d’Italia. Why? Because they come across as possibly the friendliest, most laid-back, fun team on the WorldTour. And as a journalist, when you go to their bus to talk to one of their riders, it’s just not the same ballache of diversion tactics it can be with some other teams. Mentioning no names.
I remember one such visit at a 2015 Tour de France stage finish in Amiens. It was only stage five but the team was falling apart as a result of crash injuries. Managers Matt White and Neil Stephens would have been perfectly within their rights to be getting their knickers in a twist.
I’m sure it’s an embellishment of my memory that places a beer in their hands, but I clearly remember their laid-back mood and willingness to natter as they perched on a car bonnet, waiting for a patched-up Michael Matthews to return to the bus, be helped off his bike and supported like an old man up the steps.
Matthews later left the squad for Sunweb. So, I dunno, maybe they whipped him with towels behind closed doors.
It’s true, the Yates brothers – though usually game for a friendly chat if you see them on their way to the start – can be a little elusive. Perhaps flaky’s the word. When Adam Yates once forgot to show in the lobby of a Montreal hotel for a pre-arranged interview, I had to go and drag him up from the building’s underground car park where the he and Simon had been spinning their legs on a turbo. Even his agent will tell you that he’s terrible at returning calls.
There was a small outcry when the Brits signed, ahead of 2014, for the Australian team rather than a squad from their own shores. You know who. But joining the relaxed Aussies has worked wonders for the insouciant twins. They’ve developed at their own pace (pretty quick), were given the freedom to taste success young, but never burdened under too much pressure of responsibility. Little wonder they’ve twice renewed their contracts with the set-up.
Sometimes things have been too relaxed at the team. Simon Yates will forever have an asterisk beside his name for returning a positive test for asthma medication that hadn’t been properly documented. That’s their excuse and generally we buy it. They put their hands up, he took the four month ban on the chin, and you suspect he doesn’t get half the hammering Chris Froome got even before his salbutamol case because his team puts up less walls.
Then there is Esteban Chaves, the guy with possibly the sweetest smile in the peloton. A writer from L’Equipe speculated that a leadership battle between him and Simon Yates would split the team in this year’s Giro.
That’s not got going to happen now he’s lost 25 minutes behind an early split on stage 10. But their past collaborations and the interview the pair gave after their joint-bossing of the stage to Etna seemed to tell a very different story anyway.
Two riders, racing together, having fun. United by the support of a strong, loyal and relaxed team. And a whole lot of onlookers too.