After a superb start, the wheels spun off the cart unexpectedly Monday on Mount Etna for Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
A promising opening time trial Saturday in Palermo was undone on the grueling summit finale that came early in this year’s Giro d’Italia in stage 3.
Two years ago, Yates took the pink jersey on the scarred, volcanic summit to set the tone at the 2018 Giro d’Italia, but he struggled to match the pace on the 18km grind to the finish line and tumbled out of the top 10.
“We were one of the favorites today, and we wanted to win the stage,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “Once it was obvious that Simon was not on a good day, it was all about limiting our losses.”
With blood in the water, Yates’s rivals starting to pour on the gas. Geraint Thomas (Ineos-Grenadiers) was also struggling, so Trek-Segafredo, riding for local hero Vincenzo Nibali, set a blistering pace.
Yates came through 31st, giving up his advantage he earned in Saturday’s opening time trial to lose more than three minutes to his direct GC rivals. Much like compatriot Thomas, Yates fell from eighth on GC down to 25th at 3:46 back.
White said the unexpected losses means a reset for the team’s strategy in this Giro.
“We will look at coming it from a different angle,” White said. “Instead of coming at it from the front, now we’re coming from behind. We have to reassess it, we have to take it day by day, as cliche as it is, it’s true.”
Yates, 28, skipped this year’s Tour de France and put the Giro at the center of his rescheduled season plans. Mitchelton-Scott brought a strong team to help support Yates, who is determined to win the Giro once and for all.
After imploding in 2018 against Chris Froome, and riding through last year’s Giro without mounting a serious threat for pink, the mood was sky-high heading into this year’s edition.
Following a confidence-boosting first time trial, when he gave up the least amount of time to Thomas among the other GC favorites, Yates finished safely with the lead group in Sunday’s uphill finale at Agrigento to start Monday’s stage eighth overall.
Things went sideways Monday. Yates got gapped as the pace opened up, and Mitchelton-Scott went from trying to win the stage to trying to salvage the Giro. His teammates paced him as best he could.
White said it’s way too early to throw in any pink-jersey towels.
“The Giro is always won in the last week. It’s always a brutal finish and it’s a long way from now and then,” White said. “We have to keep hitting it from a different angle and keep chipping away on the GG. Everyone has a bad day in a grand tour, and ours came early, and hopefully that’s the last one.”