For the bones of an hour on Mont Ventoux, Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) was the virtual yellow jersey of the Tour de France, but the race organisation's decision to delay the presentation ceremony suggested that his grasp on the precious garment was to be an ephemeral one.
The commissaires eventually opted to amend the results and keep Chris Froome (Sky) atop the overall standings, reasoning that his crash during stage 12 with 1.2 kilometres remaining, caused by a television motorbike, constituted exceptional circumstances. Yates bore the decision with good grace, insisting that he had no objections.
"I saw the video already. I think nobody would have wanted to take the jersey like this so I'm happy with the decision," Yates said in the mixed zone after the finish. "Honestly I'm very happy for the outcome because I wouldn't have wanted to take the jersey like this. Froome's a way stronger than me and the way he's been riding in the Tour so far, he is the rightful owner of the yellow jersey. It wouldn't have felt right to take the jersey like that."
Yates had crossed the finish line at a windswept Chalet Reynard in 11th place on the stage, 5:24 down on stage winner Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) but 1:21 ahead of Chris Froome (Sky), enough to put him into the overall lead, 9 seconds clear of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). This was a visit to Mont Ventoux, however, where a glance at the results sheet didn't even begin to tell the full story.
After attacking with three kilometres remaining, Froome approached the final kilometre in the company of Richie Porte (BMC) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) holding a lead of 20 seconds over a fragmenting chase group, but the trio were brought down by a motorbike that braked suddenly in front of them.
While Mollema and Porte quickly remounted, Froome's bike was rendered unusable when a following motorbike crashed into it, and in his desperation, the yellow jersey abandoned his damaged machine and ran up the mountain before receiving a replacement. While Yates and the chasers were also forced to pick their way through the tumult in the final kilometre, the Bury native shrugged off the notion that he was in any way disappointed by the decision of the college of commissaires.
"Not even a little bit. If I was in the same situation, and the jersey was taken from me like that, I'd have wanted the same outcome," he said.
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Scarcely a week ago, in fact, Yates was at the centre of an incident that had effectively set a precedent for the jury's decision on the remarkable happenings on Mont Ventoux, when the Englishman's late attack on stage 7 was halted by the collapse of the inflatable banner demarcating the final kilometre.
On that occasion, commissaires revised the standings and opted to stop the clock at the flamme rouge, a decision that saw Yates divest Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) of the white jersey – though only after the Frenchman had been presented with the garment on the podium. Two lessons from Lac de Payolle were applied at Chalet Reynard on Thursday afternoon, then, and Yates accepted the call with equanimity.
"If anyone else was in the same situation, they'd feel the same. Nobody wants to take the jersey like that. You want to take it with your legs on your own strength," Yates said, and then unconsciously echoed Bradley Wiggins' catch-all response to the vagaries of bike racing. "It is what it is."
In the revised overall standings, Yates remains second overall, but he is now some 47 seconds behind Froome. With a 37.5-kilometre time trial to come on Friday afternoon, he is aware that his chances of wearing the yellow jersey on this Tour are receding. Still only 23 years of age, however, Yates is already exceeding expectations at this race, and retains a tight grip on the white jersey of best young rider.
"I'm happy with the legs. I was with the other favourites like Quintana and Valverde before the situation happened so I'm happy with the sensations," he said. "We have the time trial tomorrow. It's pretty well-known that I'm not brilliant time trialling, so I'll try to lose as little time as possible and see where we are after that."