"I'm extremely tired, as everybody else is in this peloton," Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates told Cyclingnews in Rome at the conclusion of what has been an extraordinary Giro d'Italia for the 25-year-old British rider.
Yates has enjoyed the highs of 13 days in the pink jersey as leader of the race, and the joy that goes with three stage wins, and five in all for his team. But he's also had to endure the creeping feeling of the race slipping away from him as he first gave up 1:15 of his 2:11 lead in the stage 16 time trial to Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin, followed by another 28 seconds to Dumoulin and Chris Froome (Team Sky) two days later on the road to Prato Nevoso. And then came the huge defeat on stage 19, when Froome went on the attack on the Colle delle Finestre, with Dumoulin in hot pursuit, and with Yates eventually losing nearly 39 minutes to Froome, and, with it, the race lead – and, ultimately, the Giro.
"Of course I was disappointed," said Yates, "but I always look for the positive straight away, so for me it's okay.
"I'm still only young – or youngish – so I'll come back and adjust certain tactics or whatever it is that I've done in this Giro, and try to come back stronger."
Yates' Mitchelton-Scott directeur sportif, Matt White, meanwhile, stood outside the team bus in the Italian capital and told Cyclingnews that he was extremely proud of how Yates and the whole team had ridden the race.
"We had a plan to really attack the race with the characteristics of our riders, and I think that was 100 per cent a success," White said. "It was really, really nice for us to finish off with Mikel Nieve's win yesterday [Saturday, stage 20]. Yes, it was a bit of a blow to lose the pink jersey because we worked so hard to keep it, but Yatesy just couldn't hold it anymore. But Mikel's win was a really good sign of the character and atmosphere in this team, showing how we can bounce back so quickly and put things behind us and just go after it, so yesterday's win was just as pleasing as any of the other ones [earlier in the race]."
As for where it may have all unravelled, White agreed that Yates had indeed given the time trial on stage 16 everything he had, but that the third week as a whole had taken its toll.
"Simon went very, very deep on the stage to Sappada [stage 15], had one day off, and then went very, very deep in that time trial. I'm certainly not going to make any excuses, but things caught up with him and he had a bad period.
"I think you could see how the accumulative stress caught up with a few people – even on the days you would have pencilled in to be easier days, like the stage after the TT, for example, which turned into one of the most nervous days of the tour because of the style of racing and the wind and rain. So there was actually no chance to recover in that whole last week.
"If you look at it on paper," summed up White, "there was a rest day, a TT day, a flat day – which should have been for a breakaway, and which should have been quite easy – and then you went into the mountains. But that just all caught up with a few people – Simon included."