Adam Yates' strong performance on the climb to Terminillo at Tirreno-Adriatico lifted him to second overall behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and confirmed his ability for important Italian stage racing after his success at the 2016 Tour de France.
Yates will lead Orica-Scott at the Giro d'Italia and his natural aggression and ability to read a race seems highly suited to the unpredictable racing that makes the corsa rosa so great to watch.
The 16km climb to Terminillo was about steady power for the first half and then the ability to go with Quintana's expected attack in the final kilometres. Yates proved he had both in his first big outing of the year.
"It’s pretty much the first big effort like that on a long climb this season, so I'm happy. I'd say that's a pretty good performance," Yates told the media at the race after a hot shower helped him recover from the cold.
"It shows I'm on track. I knew where I was with my preparation and its good to find out in a race with a big effort. Everything is on track."
Yates, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) formed the select attack group on the second part of the climb along with Quintana. When the Colombian made several surges, the other three were unable to go with him but they were strong and did not crack.
Thomas got the closest to Quintana, with Yates pacing his effort carefully and closing the gap to just 24 seconds at the line, with Thomas only six seconds ahead of him. It was the first time that two British riders had finished on the podium of a Tirreno-Adriatico stage, confirming the depth of British talent in the peloton.
"It was pretty full gas at the moment when Quintana attacked," Yates explained. "In moments like that, you just have to try to hold on. I felt okay and when he attacked, you've got to get on a wheel and try to limit your losses.
"Geraint was super strong and attacked. There was a headwind and so it was hard out there. We talked but were on completely different teams. We're not rivals but everyone is out for themselves."
Difficult to crack Quintana
Yates sits 33 seconds down on Quintana in the overall classification. He is also the best young rider and will wear the white jersey on Sunday's stage. He has to look over his own shoulder and perhaps worry about Rohan Dennis (BMC) in the final 10km time trial on Tuesday but could gain more time on his rivals during Sunday's testing stage on the hills of Le Marche.
The 210km stage is brutal, with continuous climbing in the final 110km. The final climbs are short but very steep 'muri', with six of them packed like sharks teeth into the final 55km. It is perfect terrain for an ambush and suits Yates' style. However, he and Orica-Scott know that Quintana and Movistar rarely make mistakes in important stage races.
"'We've still got a couple of days to try something and see what happens. Quintana is looking pretty strong but you never know,"' Yates said.
"'We'll see what happens on Sunday when we get there. I don't know the stage. All the stages so far, we've done in previous editions of Tirreno but not his one."'
"'I'm feeling good and people start to suffer. If there's an opportunity, then I'll try but I don't think it'll be easy, it'll probably be pretty controlled. When Quintana has the lead like that, Movistar usually does a good job and avoids losing seconds. Of course, if it there's a chance, I'll go for it.
"'Tomorrow's stage is the only one I can perhaps win but I'm satisfied with my race so far. I hope to finish as high up as possible. We've still got the TT which is a pain for me but we'll see. My training has gone good and my racing too, I'm confident."'
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