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Simon Yates leads challenge to Jumbo-Visma leaders after ‘best time trial I’ve done for a while’

The Brit opted for Paris-Nice over Tirreno due to the tougher TT test and has made the best of his choice, leaping to fourth on GC.

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MONTLUÇON, France (VN) – On the back of his first top five time trial finish in a WorldTour event since the 2019 Giro d’Italia, Simon Yates has emerged as the leading challenger to Jumbo-Visma’s dominance of the general classification at Paris-Nice.

Fifth on the day, just 11 seconds down in the rolling Montluçon time trial won by Wout van Aert, the Briton jumped from 20th to fourth overall on GC, 49 seconds down on the Belgian as the race heads for the hills and mountains of southern France for its final four days.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come here rather than going to Tirreno-Adriatico was because this was a bit more of a lumpy TT, whereas in Tirreno they’re always quite flat out and backs – British 10s stuff,” said Yates, who has opted for the Italian stage race in the last two seasons.

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“It’s hard for me to really test myself there. You just do 400 watts and that’s it. But here, you really have to pace it, judge the corners a little bit as well. So, it’s good here.”

Yates explained that judging his pacing on the tricky 13.4km course was fundamental to his good ride.

“The harder climb was the first one, the first little drag, as that was where the difference was made really,” he said. “From that point on it was just full gas to the line. I’m pretty happy with that obviously. It’s the best TT I’ve done for a while, so we’ll see what the rest of the race has to say now.”

Hayter and Haig shine

Yates’ compatriot Ethan Hayter was also delighted with his TT performance in Montluçon. The British champion finished a place and just three seconds behind Yates.

“It was definitely one of my better time trials,” Hayter said. “I really gave it something on the climbs. I was probably slower on the descents as I couldn’t really see coming into town at the end with the visor and the sweat. But that was a good time trial for me.”

He now expects to spend the next four days helping Ineos leaders Dani Martínez and Adam Yates as the pair challenge for GC honors. The Colombian jumped to seventh overall, one minute and six seconds down on race leader van Aert, with Yates another 15 seconds back in 11th.

“We’ll see where this leaves us for the next four days. But Dani and Adam are both going really well,” said Hayter, who alluded to the possibility that the Col de Turini summit finish scheduled for Saturday may be removed from the race due to a forecast of freezing rain and even snow on the pass.

“The Turini may get taken out, so you have to go aggressive. And tomorrow [Thursday’s fifth stage] is actually really hard from the start. There’s a 10k climb and I think there’s a few of us that are a bit worried about that one. It could be a hard stage if we’re not in the front.”

Bahrain Victorious leader Jack Haig was another GC hitter who moved up the standings, although not quite to the extent that the Australian was hoping.

“It’s super important to do these TTs, and I think maybe today my lack of practice showed a little bit, or maybe I didn’t execute it as well as I wanted to. I think the time was still reasonable, though,” said Haig, who now lies 13th overall.

Like the Yates twins and Martínez, the Australian should be even more of a presence over the final days at Paris-Nice, but he suggested that the weather could be a complicating factor for those riders aiming to challenge van Aert and his Jumbo teammate Primož Roglič.

“I saw the forecast for the weekend and I’m praying that it changes because I think that could actually have a big impact on the race, especially if it’s really bad weather on the Col de Turini stage. Whatever happens, I’m hoping for a bit more fun in the mountains rather than battling the crosswinds,” said Haig.