In the last two Andorran stages Friday and Saturday, the Englishman dominated the group of classification favorites in this Vuelta a España. He attacked and gained time when he did not need to: 10 kilometers out on Rabassa on Friday and 17km out on Saturday.
Yates gained time on his nearest rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in stage 20, one day before the flat Madrid finishing stage, 1:46 ahead of Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors). Valverde cracked and slipped from second to fifth overall.
“Relieved? Extremely,” Yates said. “I think it’s still sinking in, just an incredible day really.
“This morning was the first day I was really nervous. We knew it’d be a crazy day. You don’t know what will happen, how the legs will respond, but thankfully the legs were good and the team was unbelievable.”
Yates was tested by an attack from Miguel Angel López (Astana). The Colombian began to gain time, but instead of leaving it until later in the stage, Yates attacked off the heels of his twin brother Adam.
“Adam was on his last legs, working for 20-plus kilometers. He told me he didn’t have much left,” Yates said.
“I was nervous and worried I’d be chasing in the valley towards the final climb and that would be the worst situation. I decided to jump across, and it helped to have Mas to come with me and also López. They worked, they wanted to work for the podium. So thankfully that worked out.”
Yates will complete a first in cycling in Madrid tomorrow. Never before has one nation won all three grand tours in the same year with different riders. Chris Froome won the Giro d’Italia, Geraint Thomas the Tour de France and now, Yates.
Froome toppled Yates’s 13-day run in the Giro’s pink jersey to take the overall win in Rome. Yates went hard from the blocks and won three stages, however, with only two days to go, he cracked and slipped from first to 21st. He wants to return to the 2019 Giro because of “unfinished business” instead of thinking about the Tour de France next year.
“I’m cautious to think about Madrid,” explained Yates, not wanting to say he won the Vuelta yet. “We know what happened in the Giro.”
Yates took those lessons from the Giro to Spain three months later. He and his team forced Movistar and others to work when they could and Yates truly only came out of his shell in the second half.
“Throughout the race, I really stayed calm. I controlled my effort when I needed to and it made a really big difference in the final,” he said.