Through eight stages of the Tour de France, Mitchelton-Scott team leader Adam Yates has enjoyed a quiet race. While others have gone on the attack – or crashed – the British climber has hit upon a happy medium, with him and his team staying out of trouble during the nervous early stages of the race.
On the never-flat road to Saint-Étienne on Saturday, there were contrasting fortunes for Yates' GC rivals as Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) attacked late on, along with Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), to gain 20 seconds. Meanwhile, reigning Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) hit the deck at the base of the final climb, giving rise to a frantic chase but ultimately no time loss.
So while Yates made it through another tricky stage safely, was there not a temptation to pull the trigger on the two-kilometre, eight-per-cent Côte de Jaillere?
"No, no," said team directeur sportif Matt White when asked about whether Yates might have gone with Pinot and Alaphilippe 13 kilometres from the line on stage 8.
"Those guys made a big effort, and Alaphilippe was chasing the yellow jersey. Every team has got their tactics and no, Adam was fine where he was."
Earlier in the day, Yates had specifically named the two late attackers as riders who have impressed him so far during this Tour. His words look prescient after the events of Saturday, but show a man acutely aware of how his rivals are going.
"So far, I reckon the level is pretty equal," he said. "In my opinion, the most impressive is Alaphilippe. He's climbing really well, and even on the Planche des Belle Filles stage, he was attacking there at the end.
"Pinot is also going really well. Everyone is kind of at a similar level, and we've only really had one GC day, so it's hard to really pick out guys."
On that day – stage 6 to 'Super Planche' – Yates shed 14 seconds to Geraint Thomas, coming in alongside Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) in 13th place. There was a reason for his time loss, though – one that won't come up again during this Tour.
"I like climbing out of the saddle, but, with the gravel, you lose a bit of traction," he said referrimng to the final section of the Planche des Belle Filles climb. "So my legs are good but it's one of those things – you lose five seconds here, 10 seconds there. We'll take it.
"It's not ideal, but at the end of the three weeks, 10 seconds is not going to mean a lot, I imagine."
While stage 6 was the only 'real' GC day so far, the first of this weekend's stages posed an equally – if not more – demanding challenge. Seven categorised climbs dotted the course, and technical and sometimes precariously narrow roads, while both EF Education First and Astana pushing the pace only served to make things harder.
"It was a tougher day than I think a lot of teams would have expected," said White. "We certainly didn't. A good way to explain it is as a mini-Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the middle of summer.
"Today it was a tougher day [than La Planche]. It was the toughest of the Tour so far, for sure. Even though there was a big group of riders at the finish, the way today was raced overall made it a very solid day," he said.
A couple of very challenging days down, then, and more to come with the Pau time trial plus the high mountains honing into view. Before the Tour began, Yates stated a somewhat modest ambition for July, saying that he'd like to improve on his fourth-place finish, just 21 seconds off the podium,www.cyclingnews.com/news/tour-de-france-confident-and-consistent-adam-yates-targets-podium/ back in 2016.
He'll have every chance to do that during the next 13 days of racing, too. And in 14th place overall, still well within striking distance of each of his main rivals, Yates can be as confident as anyone going forward.