Simon Yates: Everybody has to attack Roglic now

One of the more popular phrases from the recently-ended Game of Thrones television series is ‘either you win – or you die’. For Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and the other contenders for the Giro d’Italia, when it comes to taking on lead favourite Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), their strategy for the race’s final two weeks now boils down to logic of equally brutal simplicity: “either you attack – or you die.”

With Roglic on the rampage in Sunday’s rain-soaked time trial to San Marino, Yates and almost all the rest of the contenders were faced with a far more serious defeat than they had bargained for in this particularly fraught episode of the Giro d’Italia GC battle. In Yates’ case, the damage was such that he ceded over three minutes in a test where he had hoped to lose a minute at most.

So, as Yates explained on the Giro’s first rest day on Monday, the Briton will have no choice but to attack in the mountains if he wants to keep his bid for overall victory on track. And that goes for the rest of his rivals as well – barring, of course, the man currently tipped to reign the longest in the Giro’s equivalent of the Seven Kingdoms’ Iron Throne.

As for the time trial and how, after months of progress in that department, Yates’ body suddenly jammed in reverse gear on Sunday’s vital race against the clock, the Briton told reporters: “I set out with a strategy, just to ride slightly below threshold for the first part and then really squeeze it on the climb, which is what I would do normally anyway, but I got to the climb and I just didn’t have anything left.

“It’s not that I’d emptied the tank before; it’s just when I tried to stomp on the pedals I really didn’t want to move. My heart rate wasn’t going up so I don’t know what’s happened. It’s really disappointing for myself, personally.”

So much for the how. As for why he struggled where he was expecting to show strongly, Yates said that, amongst possible factors, he had maybe “taken it a little bit too easily” in the days immediately approaching the Giro in a bid to be as fresh as possible for the start.

“We’re looking at almost two weeks ago, and that’s a seriously long time,” Yates argued.

As for how that could affect his form going forwards, Yates said: “In a way, I’ve not been doing anything here. I’ve been in the wheels all the way so far, and I’ve done big one effort so far – the prologue. I’ve not touched the wind yet.

“So if you look at it that way, I should have enough energy to last. It all depends on the situation, how the rest of the race goes, how my legs respond now.

“Maybe I had to detrain myself in these eight days [before the Giro] and I’m actually not going good anymore. But we’ll see how we go when we get there [to the mountains].”

The one rider to withstand Roglic’s TT onslaught was Vincenzo NIbali (Bahrain-Merida), losing only 65 seconds to the Slovenian, but Yates said he was not surprised by the Italian’s strong showing. It was, he added, the kind of performance he had been hoping to produce himself. Looking at his own situation, Yates recollected that he had found himself in a similar predicament in the 2015 Tour de France, which featured a very flat series of opening stages and then suddenly a seriously tough mountain stage. In other words, an overly straightforward start for Yates followed by a sudden, major challenge.

“We had 10 stages of nothingness and then we got the first mountain day in the Pyrenees and everybody was really bad, I think [Chris] Froome won by 1:40 or something to [Nairo] Quintana,” Yates recollected.

“The rest were even more behind. That day I also had shit legs, a similar feeling [to Sunday]. But it’s the same for everybody else. I’m not trying to make excuses that that was the reason why I’ve gone badly here, but maybe that was one of the factors.”

As Yates pointed out, in the last two Grand Tours he’s done, there was a big mountain stage in the first week, in the Granada sierras in the Vuelta a España and on Mount Etna in the Giro. Either way, Yates pointed out that, in the days that followed that one bad Tour de France stage four years ago, he was able to turn things around and get into some breaks.

As for the here and now in this particular Italian Grand Tour, with such a big time loss on Roglic, racing as ambitiously as possible in the mountains seems the only way to fight back. The only fly in the ointment for that particular solution, though, is that there are still two more stages of what Yates calls “nothingness” – at least in terms of his own personal interests – as well as a rest day, to get through before the mountains arrive. Either way, there is no sense that Yates will throw in the towel in the 2019 Giro.

“I’ve worked too hard to just give up already, so I’ll give it everything I got,” he said. “If I come up short, then that’s ok. We’ve still got lots of things to work on so we’ll take it from there.”

Asked if he has no choice but to attack, Yates replied: “It’s not just me in that position; a lot of the other guys are down as well. Roglic is looking very, very impressive. Everybody is going to have to attack him, so I can see the race becoming very aggressive – maybe not in the sprints, but as soon as we hit the mountains.”

What could intensify that process of toughening up the Giro’s mountains stages is that his team have yet to use up any of their climbers, given there has been so little work for them to do so far.

Yates sounded sceptical, though, that Roglic might finally come unstuck in the Giro’s third week after being in top form for so long, since the end of February. It’s worth remembering that the Jumbo-Visma star has previous in this area. In the Tour last year, Roglic fared very well until almost the end of the race, before falling apart a little in the last time trial.

“He doesn’t look like he’s slowing down right now. He looks very, very impressive,” Yates pointed out. “I don’t know, obviously I hope he does, but we’ll see.”

In one sense, it barely matters. No matter how Roglic – or the rest of his rivals – are going, at this point in the Giro game, Yates’ own strategy for the throne is not going to change at all: attack – or die.

Go to Source

‘What he’s just done goes down in history’ – caddie Elliott continues successful Koepka odyssey

Ricky Elliott is about to embrace Brooks Koepka after the American holed the winning putt at Bethpage on Sunday

Ricky Elliott knew immediately Brooks Koepka was something special, but admits he could never have imagined just how right he would be.

Northern Irishman Elliott, from Portrush, started caddying for Koepka at the 2013 US PGA Championship and the pair have worked together ever since, during which time Koepka has won four major titles and 25million US dollars in prize money on the PGA Tour and become world number one.

After successfully defending the US PGA title at Bethpage on Sunday, Koepka will head to Pebble Beach next month looking for a third consecutive US Open victory – a feat only previous achieved by Scotsman Willie Anderson from 1903 to 1905.

The 29-year-old American will then rely heavily on Elliott’s local knowledge as the Open Championship is staged in his caddie’s home town for the first time since 1951.

“I’ve played there a lot growing up but Brooks hits the ball differently than the lines I hit it on,” said Elliott, who is good friends with another Portrush native, former US Open champion Graeme McDowell.

“I’ll have to work on my yardage book for Brooks playing it but obviously a little local knowledge doesn’t hurt.

“Brooks has got a big following in Portrush, probably because of me, so he’ll be well supported and I think Portrush will be set up well for him.”

Elliott a former Ulster Youths Champion

Elliott was a good golfer in his own right, winning titles such as the Ulster Boys Championship and the Ulster Youth Championship as well as representing Ireland at the 1990 European Youths Championship.

After attending the University of Toledo on a golf scholarship, Elliott tried to make it as a professional before accepting an assistant professional’s post at Lake Nona in Orlando.

The 42-year-old eventually moved into caddying and worked for the likes of 2003 Open champion Ben Curtis before the job opportunity which would change his life at the 2013 US PGA.

“Claude Harmon was coaching Brooks and he said he needed a caddie for Oak Hill,” Elliott added.

“We made the cut and then Claude said at the end of the week, ‘do you fancy doing a few more?’ and six years later… It’s been all right.

“The first practice we played I just thought, ‘This guy is the real deal, he is hitting the ball unbelievably’. There was just something about him. Obviously, you could never say he was going to do this, but there was always something that was different about him.”

Ricky Elliott with Koepka after the American's US Open triumph in 2017

Koepka makes breakthrough at 2017 US Open

Koepka won his first major in the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills and after becoming the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to defend the title at Shinnecock Hills, he also won the 2018 US PGA at Bellerive.

After finishing second to Tiger Woods in the Masters last month, Koepka then led from start to finish at Bethpage despite a late wobble.

“What he’s just done goes down in history,” added Elliott.

“He’s just so calm all the time. He obviously realises he’s one of the better players out here now and getting through at Erin Hills sort of stamped that on him and his place in the game now is in stone.

“He’s just one of the best players and to be honest he goes out there and thinks that.”

But while possessing total self-assurance, Koepka regularly seeks wise counsel from family and others in his circle, says Elliott.

“He listens to people around him; he takes advice, he likes to talk to other players, especially Graeme (McDowell) in the early days, finding out what it takes to win a major and have a successful career.”

Raucous support for Johnson fails to ruffle Koepka

Four successive bogeys early in his back nine on Sunday suddenly saw Koepka’s seemingly impregnable lead trimmed to a single stroke by countryman and friend Dustin Johnson.

At that point the raucous New York crowds were chanting their support for Johnson but Koepka soon regained control as his challenger faltered with bogeys on 16 and 17.

“We just had to block it out and keep talking between ourselves,” Elliott said of the chants.

“I’m sure he heard it. Obviously, the crowd came out the whole weekend thinking the event was over, people not knowing golf, and all of a sudden they had a game on their hands late in the fourth quarter so they are obviously going to be hoping for the underdogs.”

Koepka himself felt the chants helped him refocus and there will be no chance of a repeat scenario at Portrush, where Elliott’s connections will ensure both men have plenty of support.

“I’m excited to get over there,” Koepka said. “That’s one place I’ve never been, which is shocking, because I’ve been all over the world.

“It will be special for Ricky. It will be special for me. I’m sure he’s going to have his family, his mom and dad will be out there. I think he’s staying with them that week.

“I think everybody in Ireland has been waiting for this for a long time.”

Go to Source

Clarke loses to Davidovich Fokina in French Open qualifying

Jay Clarke

Great Britain’s Jay Clarke lost to Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the first qualifying round of the French Open.

The British number four took the first set and was serving for the match in the second before Davidovich Fokina fought back to win 2-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-1.

The 19-year-old Spaniard faces Portugal’s Joao Domingues in the second qualifying round.

Davidovich Fokina is ranked 133rd in the world, 26 places above Clarke.

The 20-year-old Englishman made a fine start as he broke his opponent’s serve in both of his first two service games to dominate the opening set.

After fighting back from 4-1 down in the second, Clarke was serving for the match with a 6-5 second-set lead, but the Spaniard broke back and then won the tie-break to take it to a deciding set.

Davidovich Fokina, a winner of the Wimbledon juniors event in 2017, broke immediately in the third set and two further breaks saw him move into the next phase, needing to win two more matches to qualify for the tournament.

Another Briton, James Ward, begins his qualifying campaign against Germany’s Oscar Otte later on Monday and hopes to join Kyle Edmund, Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans in the main competition.

Go to Source

Official Tour de France Race Guide 2019 is available to pre-order now!

Celebrate the build-up to the summer’s biggest sporting event with the ONLY UK Official 2019 Tour de France Race Guide. This year’s guide is available to pre-order now with FREE UK delivery!

Inside your souvenir pack you will find a huge 220-page official programme packed with profiles of every team, stats for every rider, maps of every stage, interviews with the stars, expert analysis, and so much more.

In addition to the official programme, the souvenir pack also contains:

  • A giant 2019 wall chart for filling in the stage winner and jersey holders after each day’s racing
  • A 68-page 1989 Tour de France extract book examining the epic race between Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon
  • The official full-size fold-out route map
  • Limited-edition postcards

Don’t miss out – pre-order your copy today

Go to Source