After a disastrous opening stage of the Tour de France, which saw Mitchelton-Scott’s GC leader Adam Yates crash and lose almost a minute to many of his biggest rivals, the Australian squad powered through the stage 3 team time trial to finish fourth, nine seconds down on BMC Racing. It brought its British leader back into the fold.
Yates now sits 20th overall, one minute off the lead of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). More importantly, however, he gained back considerable time on many of his key rivals: Ilnur Zakarin, who lost 44 seconds to the Australian; the trio of Movistar riders Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde, and Nairo Quintana, who lost 45 seconds; Nibali, who lost 57 seconds; and Bardet, who lost 1:06.
It was just what sport director Matt White expected.
“Just as we expected. We expected to be among the best teams,” White said. “But what I was really interested in is how much time we put into our other big rivals: Bardet, Nibali, Zakarin, those sort of guys. All is looking good so far.”
Overall, the performance moves Yates solidly back into the virtual top-10 among GC contenders, behind the likes of Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome, and Richie Porte, whose teams also had strong performances in the TTT.
“I think we can be happy with that,” said Michael Hepburn, 2014 Aussie national time trial champion and a former world champion on the track. “Especially after the last couple of days when we had a bit of bad luck. A couple of guys were a bit dinged up today, so we did pretty good.”
Several of Mitchelton-Scott’s riders, including Yates, were also caught up in a crash near the finish of stage 2. While Yates avoided serious injury, Daryl Impey’s crash resulted in a contusion to the left scapula. Luke Durbridge also crashed hard. The Australian finished 6:18 down on stage winner Peter Sagan with both knees covered in blood.
It’s impossible to know how much the team could have improved had they not been riding through injury. According to Hepburn, Impey and Durbridge are among the team’s strongest riders — Durbridge fell off the pace in the TTT and did not finish with the lead group of four riders.
Yates, White, and the rest of the team are looking forward to several flat stages to recover before the next likely GC showdown on stage 6, which finishes up the punchy climb of Mûr de Bretagne.
Andrew Hood contributed to this report from Cholet, France.