Tour de France 2020

Mitchelton-Scott to try and defend yellow jersey ‘as long as we can’

Mitchelton-Scott director Matt White says the Australian squad will try to keep the yellow jersey as long as they can.

There are no gifts at the Tour de France.

But there is luck, and sometimes good fortune can bring an unexpected benefit to riders and teams.

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That’s how Mitchelton-Scott director Matt White is viewing the controversial decision by race commissaires to penalize overnight race leader Julian Alaphilippe for taking an illegal feed during Wednesday’s stage 5 — a move that handed the jersey to White’s marquee rider, Adam Yates.

“The moves that Adam made on the first day — the way the guys have been riding to protect Adam in the first week, enabled us to benefit from the bad luck of somebody breaking the rules,” White said. “It’s not the way you want to do it. But this is the biggest race on the calendar and we’ll take the yellow jersey and keep it as long as we can.”

TV cameras caught sight of Alaphilippe grabbing a water bottle at 17km to go, which violates the UCI rule banning feeds inside 20km to go. UCI rules mandate a 20-second time penalty for the offense, and the race commissars decided to hand the full penalty to Alaphilippe. The move bumped him down to 16th place overall and elevated Yates from second to first place in the GC standings.

Yates had followed Alaphilippe’s attack during Sunday’s stage 2 into Nice and he trailed the Frenchman by just four seconds in the overall.

After learning of the ruling, Yates said that the situation was not how he wanted to take the Tour’s yellow jersey.

“I don’t think anybody wants to take yellow jersey like this, you want to do it by winning or taking time, it is what it is,” Yates said. “I was on the bus, showered, waiting for last few guys, and we would have gone to the hotel, someone called back, they said you might have yellow – even then I only found out when I went to the podium – it was a time penalty for taking a feed.”

Indeed, White confirmed that the ruling caught the entire Mitchelton-Scott staff off-guard. The team had already cooled down from the stage and retreated back to the team bus. Riders had already taken their post-race showers and changed into street clothes, he said.

“We were probably 5 minutes from the bus leaving. All of the boys had showered and changed and not too weren’t too far from pulling away,” White said. “My phone rang and it was organizers of the Tour de France telling me that Adam Yates was in the yellow jersey. And I asked why and they told us, they didn’t go into too much detail, they said Alaphilippe had received a 20 second time penalty.”

“We turned on the TV and saw they replayed 1 million times him collecting a bottle inside the last 20km which is against the rules and the officials deemed to give [Alaphilippe] a time penalty to put [Adam] into yellow,” he added.

Yates’ move into yellow throws a curveball at the Australian team’s stated plans for this year’s Tour de France, which is to solely target stage wins and not go for a high GC finish with the young British rider. In the lead-up to the race, Yates and the team’s public relations staff were adamant that stage victories were the team’s priority for 2020.

In 2019 the squad won four stages of the Tour de France, making it the most successful Tour of the squad’s history.

Yates has traditionally been the squad’s Tour de France GC rider, and in 2016 he finished fourth place and grabbed the race’s Best Young Rider prize. Since then he has struggled.

But White hinted that working to keep yellow as long as possible could be the team’s new focus for the next days of the Tour. After all, Yates showed on Tuesday’s stage 4 to Orcières-Merlette that he is among the top climbers at this year’s mountainous race.

“He’s one of the best climbers here,” White said. “We saw he’s in the lead group of climbers yesterday.”

How long Yates keeps the jersey is the new storyline of this year’s General Classification battle. After all, when the Tour de France brings you good fortune, you should probably take it.