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Three years ago, GreenEdge bosses hashed out their long-term team goals. Australia’s first WorldTour team had already established itself as a consistent winner on the international scene. Victories in classics, stages, and even one-week stage races were piling up fast.
That wasn’t enough. Team brass wanted more. The squad — now racing as Mitchelton-Scott — took a big risk and turned away from the sponsor-pleasing and headline grabbing sprint-focused, attack-oriented style of racing the team was built on, and decided to go for GC in the grand tours.
“Maybe it was a risk to go for the GC, but it was always part of our long-term vision for the team,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “We know we have some good riders in Chaves and the Yates brothers. We’ve been developing them along slowly.”
Mitchelton-Scott grabbed the stage by the throat early on and didn’t let go. Chaves and teammate Jack Haig jumped into the day’s main breakaway. With the main bunch seemingly in disarray because so many teams had riders up the road, Yates could hold his powder.
Chaves and Haig rode into the day’s 28-rider group, a huge breakaway by any grand tour standard. BMC finally took up the chase to keep the dangerous group at three minutes, but with about 10 kilometers to go, Chaves was among the last men standing. Haig did great work to pace Chaves, who went solo in a bid for the stage win.
The favorites were coming up behind them, with Yates patiently marking the moves. The Brit sensed an opening and bolted clear to link up with Chaves.
“There wasn’t much talking,” Yate said when he rode up to Chaves. “I said, let’s go, mate! Let’s go!”
As much as the day’s action might have seemed like the perfect script, Yates said much of the tactical approach was improvised based on the dynamics of the race.
“I’m not really sure how it happened,” Yates said. “Our tactic today isn’t what our sport director told us to do this morning. I looked across the road and everybody was looking at each other. I took a chance and got across.”
As the pair crossed the line one and two, it’s the first time a team finished first and second in a Giro stage in nearly 10 years.
“It worked out perfectly,” said Yates, who takes the leader’s jersey 16 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). “Esteban was out there all day so he deserved the win.”
It brought back memories of some of cycling’s most famous winning pairs — no one dared to say Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault — and it puts the onus on the Australian outfit.
The squad brought some hitters to this Giro, and could emerge as the favorites if Yates and Chaves can defend this GC positions in a pair of moderately difficult climbing stages waiting this weekend.
“I’ve said from the start that I think we have the strongest team here,” Yates said. “We have an incredible team here, not just on the bike, but off the bike as well.”
Now it will be crunch time for Mitchelton-Scott’s GC bet. It’s one thing to hold a leader’s jersey, win a major stage, or finish on the final podium. It’s quite something else to win a grand tour.
Before the Giro started, Chaves said the team was full of dreamers. Right now, they’re in the clouds, with Chaves third at 26 seconds back.
“How unbelievable is that?” Chaves said. “It’s like a dream. Now we go to the mainland. We’re super excited and we will keep on dreaming.”