Simon Yates: I'll need minutes on Dumoulin before time trial

Briton extends Giro d'Italia lead with Gran Sasso victory

It had to be him. Simon Yates has seemed to be operating on a different plane on this Giro d'Italia thus far, and the Briton continued his effervescent start to the race by claiming the stage victory atop Gran Sasso d'Italia to buttress his hold on the maglia rosa.

As snow banked the roadsides near the summit of the Gran Sasso and Chris Froome (Team Sky) melted from the back of the leading group, Yates kept his cool as first Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and then Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) launched rasping efforts to test his resolve.

The bobbing figure of Pozzovivo led the dwindling group into the final kilometre, but as they drew closer to the summit, it was clear that Yates was simply biding his time. As the road curved slightly towards the Arrivo banner, the Briton unleashed a brisk acceleration that carried him to stage victory ahead of Pinot, and a 10-second time bonus to boot.

After his disarmingly strong display in the final 1,500 metres of the Giro's first summit finish on Mount Etna on Thursday, Yates was not lacking in self-assurance as the race went above the 2,000-metre mark for the first time.

"I was not surprised, because I saw and I felt on Etna already that I had very good legs," Yates said of his win. "But it was a very difficult stage and very long so I wasn't 100 percent confident before the final."

Yates' victory cements his hold on the maglia rosa and he reaches the race's second rest day with a lead of 32 seconds on teammate Esteban Chaves, who placed third on the stage, and 38 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), who conceded 12 seconds when the lead group splintered in the closing metres. Pinot and Pozzovivo lie at 45 and 57 seconds, respectively.

"Today Pozzovivo was very strong, Thibaut Pinot was very good, and Tom is still there. We haven't gained a lot of time on him," said Yates, who is mindful that Dumoulin will expect to recoup his current deficit and tack on a deposit box of spare change in the Trento time trial on stage 16.

"He's still incredibly strong and very hard to gain time on. I'll need minutes before the time trial, and I only have 38 seconds now. For me that's not enough, we'll need to be aggressive to gain more time."

Yates' gains over Froome and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) were rather more tangible. Both riders began to betray distinct signs of distress as Yates' teammate Jack Haig set a brisk tempo on the upper reaches of the Gran Sasso d'Italia. They were each distanced with a little over two kilometres to go, and reached the summit a little over a minute down.

Froome is now 11th overall at 2:27, while Aru is down to 15th, at 2:36. Even at this early juncture, their respective roads to wearing pink in Rome seem complicated in the extreme.

"Maybe Froome is suffering from his crashes or maybe he doesn't have the form, I don't know," Yates said. "I was surprised to see Aru lose time, but the Giro is a long race and they could bounce back."

The Giro began with Froome dominating the headlines, due both to his ongoing salbutamol case and the suggestion that he had received a hefty appearance fee simply to take part. As the race has progressed, Yates has begun to usurp his fellow countryman, though he diplomatically batted away any comparisons.

"I think I still have a long way to go before I have the same palmarès," Yates said. "It's very difficult question, I think."

Mitchelton-Scott

For the time being, in any case, the story of this Giro is being dictated by the startling strength in depth of Mitchelton-Scott. Chaves confirmed that his victory at Etna on Thursday was earned à la pédale with his third-place finish here, in the same time as Yates, and Haig caught the eye with his confident spell of tempo riding, while the squad can also rely on Roman Kreuziger and Mikel Nieve.

Astana put their shoulders to the wheel to help pin back the day's early break in the final 50 kilometres, most of which were uphill, but the bulk of the firepower seemed to come from the Mitchelton-Scott cohort.

"From the beginning of the stage today, we were always thinking that if we kept the breakaway just close enough then it might be possible for the stage," Yates said. "Once Astana showed some interest in the stage also, then I thought it was possible."

Yates and his twin brother Adam's talent has been obvious from before they even reached the professional ranks with GreenEdge in 2014, and so, too, has their unease in the media spotlight. As maglia rosa, of course, Yates will face a press conference on Monday's rest day, and he joked about the prospect when asked how he would like to spend his day of repose.

"Normally trying to do the least media possible," Yates grinned. "No, I'm not a rider who likes to ride a lot on the rest day. I'll probably drink too much coffee and not do much."

Then again, he has done quite a lot already.

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