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Yates defied the odds in the 34.2km time trial in cool weather. He ceded time as expected — 1:15 to second-place rival Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) — but defied the odds to keep pink by 56 seconds. Feared headwinds never materialized and ending the day in pink is a victory for Yates who expected a lot worse.
“I gave everything I had. I was really dying in the final 10km,” Yates said. “I thought I would lose a lot more. I was really happy when I crossed the line still in pink.”
Yates now must avoid making a mistake or cracking under pressure of the final five days of racing to become the first British winner of the Giro.
“Simon’s been untouchable until now, so it’ll be interesting to see how he pulls up after this time trial and how he is this last block,” said archrival Chris Froome (Sky), who pulled into fourth overall at 3:50 back. “At the moment, I can’t see anyone taking that jersey off his shoulders.”
The ghost of Steven Kruijswijk — the Dutch rider who crashed and lost the Giro in the final weekend in 2016 — will haunt Yates all the way to Rome.
“I know there are very difficult stages to come. Now I’m not looking for time anymore. I can be, unfortunately for the fans, quite defensive,” Yates said. “This is the Giro, a lot of strange things happen. Anybody within 10 minutes is a danger.”
Yates inevitably will also face more scrutiny as the Giro leader. Social media is already alight about his dominance in this Giro so far.
When asked if he’s ready to face the responsibility and spotlight that comes with leading one of cycling’s grand tours, he asked, “What do they say?”
Yates answered the question in the context of his four-month ban in 2016 when he tested positive for terbutaline, a banned product that requires a therapeutic use exemption for asthma treatment. Yates missed that year’s Tour de France and Olympics Games as a result.
Officials blamed it on what was described as an “administrative error.” A team doctor had prescribed an asthma inhaler but failed to file the required TUE. The UCI handed down a backdated, four-month ban for what it called a “non-intentional” violation.
The ruling cleared Yates of a more serious violation and opened the door for his return to competition in mid-July that summer. In a statement released in 2016, Yates said he’s been an asthma sufferer since childhood and said he was unaware he was taking a banned substance as part of his asthma treatment.
“Well, I’m always going to get this now regardless of what my performances say because obviously of what happened in the past with me,” Yates said Tuesday. “That was an innocent mistake by an innocent person that I will have to deal with for the rest of my career, and I knew that at the time. Yeah, there’s not really much else to say. I don’t really follow social media all that much.”
In light of the mounting pressure, Yates said he hopes to hang on to Rome.
“I don’t feel very fresh, I feel extremely tired,” Yates said. “I never feel safe. I won’t feel safe until Rome. Anything can happen, bad luck, a bad day. I am aware that can happen, I am just praying that it doesn’t.”