Yates, already in the red leader’s jersey, attacked from 10 kilometers out to add more time to his nearest rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) Friday. When the times were calculated at the top of the Rabassa climb in Andorra, Yates jumped from a 25-second lead to 1:38 on the Spaniard.
“I have to be careful, but the way I like to race is aggressively,” Yates said.
“Today, I tried to be more aggressive, attacking, and I’ll continue to do that in the final mountain stage tomorrow.”
Yates powered clear of his rivals with 10 kilometers left in the closing 17-kilometer climb. The Vuelta raced into the nearby Andorra principality with the only climb on the menu.
Valverde’s teammate Nairo Quintana seemed to be creating a trap when he rode clear at 13 kilometers to go with Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). Yates rode alongside his rival Valverde, wearing the green points jersey, and did what followers did not expect — he attacked.
Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White said earlier in the race that sometimes the best form of defense for Yates is to attack. Yates showed that today with an aggressive surge that kept him, Pinot, and Kruijswijk clear.
Pinot won the stage, but Yates took the important second-place bonus of six seconds. He gained 1:13 with bonus seconds added in.
“There were a few guys ahead and it felt like a really good moment to jump across to those guys. And that was it really, from there à bloc to the finish,” Yates said.
“The team really supported me and I hope we can stay focused because tomorrow will be a really hard day.”
The final mountain stage covers 97.3 kilometers but climbs six passes with the Gallina finish. The road book does not print it, but it could write “trap” over the stage profile given the possibility that anyone could crack under early attacks.
“I know well how everything can change in one day,” Yates said, reminding those around in the press truck about the stage 19 finish of the Giro d’Italia when he lost the pink jersey.
Yates launched fireworks from Italy’s south to north in May. He won three stages and held the lead for 13 days. However, he failed to take the leader’s jersey to the final podium in Rome after cracking in stage 19.
This time Yates promises to be “aggressive” but “careful” at the same time with only stage 20 the final hurdle. Stage 21 should see a likely sprint finish in Madrid with little change in the overall standings.
“Anything can happen,” Yates added. “We should be ready for anything and we should take it from there.”