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Mitchelton-Scott deployed near-perfect tactics in Sunday’s slow-burning finale at Gran Sasso to carry huge momentum into the second half of the Giro d’Italia.
The Aussie outfit smashed their rivals, including taking important gains on Chris Froome (Sky) and Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates), as Simon Yates won the stage to consolidate the pink jersey going into Monday’s second rest day.
With the second and most difficult part of the Giro still ahead, Mitchelton-Scott has demonstrated it’s ready to race for pink all the way to Rome.
“I said from the beginning we came here to win,” Yates said. “I was not surprised by my performance today. I already felt on Etna [Thursday] I have very good legs.”
How far those legs can carry the 25-year-old Brit in this Giro will be decided in the next two weeks. After a wild first half of the Giro, including a start in Israel, three hard days in Sicily and back-to-back summit finales in Italy’s backbone in the Apennines, Yates has emerged as the Giro favorite.
Monday’s rest day will become a day of reckoning for many in the peloton.
Froome’s ambitious Giro plans will need readjusting after he stuttered late in Sunday’s stage. After ceding time in the opening day time trial and on the Giro’s return to Sicily, Froome was hanging on for dear life in the long, grinding climb up Gran Sasso. The elastic broke in the final 2km, and Froome gave up more than one minute on the stage and tumbled to 11that 2:27 back. Team Sky is saying the Giro “isn’t over yet,” but Yates is in an enviable position.
“Froome? Maybe it was from the crashes, maybe he’s got no form, I don’t know,” Yates said. “I was surprised to see Aru being dropped. It’s a long race. Maybe they can bounce back.”
While Froome and Aru have an uphill battle to get back into the GC frame, the top of the leaderboard is still packed with four riders within one minute of Yates.
Mitchelton-Scott teammate Esteban Chaves is second at 32 seconds back, offering Yates a nice buffer. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is fourth at 45 seconds and ever-steady Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) is fifth at 57 seconds.
It’s defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), currently in third at 38 seconds, who could play spoiler to Yates’s coming out party. The big Dutchman has matched both Yates and Chaves in most of the mountain stages and only lost time to Yates due to his explosive attacks on Etna and the final ramps of Sunday’s Gran Sasso. Time bonuses have also helped to pad Yates’s lead.
A superior time trialist, Dumoulin said he knows what he has to do.
“I just want to stay close until the time trial,” said Dumoulin, referring to 34.2km time trial at Trento on May 22. “I haven’t been feeling great on the climbs, but I haven’t lost too much time, either.”
Yates knows his grip on pink is threadbare with Dumoulin lurking so close.
“I still need to take more time,” he said. “I wasn’t able to make a big, big difference, especially to Tom. He could easily take two or three minutes out of me in the next time trial.”
Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates ride into Monday’s second rest day in an ideal position at the Giro’s halfway point.
Dumoulin is still lurking, but he was isolated late in the stage Sunday. Any hiccup between now and the Trento time trial could have major implications for Dumoulin’s hopes of defending the pink jersey.
Yates’s other direct rivals don’t look strong enough to drop him on the climbs, and riders like Pinot, Pozzovivo or the others in the top-10 do not pose the same lethal time trial threat to Yates like Froome or Dumoulin.
And Chaves seems content to play the role of loyal lieutenant, at least so far.
Yates can take his biggest confidence from his team. Mitchelton-Scott is emerging as the strongest team in this Giro.
“I said from the beginning of the Giro we are the strongest team here,” Chaves said. “We are racing to win the Giro.”
The team matches its strength with balance, with riders for all types of terrain. Svein Tuft and Sam Bewley are patrolling the front of the pack on the flats. Mikel Nieve and Christopher Juul-Jensen step up in the middle climbs while Roman Kreuziger is a late-stage pacer for the meat of the final climbs. Jack Haig is emerging as a superb climber and has proven key to both Chaves and Yates so far.
And with Chaves riding strong in GC — now second to Yates in the climber’s jersey competition — Yates will see his flanks well-defended in all terrain.
With such strong support, it will make it harder for Yates’s rivals to pull a surprise.
Perhaps Yates’s biggest challenge could be against himself. Going the distance to win a three-week stage race is still an unknown for Yates — he was sixth in the 2016 Vuelta a España and seventh in last year’s Tour de France — but there’s no arguing he’s in a great spot at the Giro’s midway point.
Yates was quick to dedicate his victory Sunday to the riders who will try to carry him all the way to Rome in pink.
“That one was for the boys,” Yates said. “The big guys who’ve been riding at the front all day.”