When Adam Yates crested the final climb of stage 16 at the Tour de France with a 32-second lead, the general consensus was that the Mitchelton-Scott rider had the win in the bag. Job done, his Tour rescued and a huge sigh of relief from his team.
But cycling is cruel and Yates' chances of winning died a slow death. First, eventual stage winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) shot out from the chase group as the summit of the Col de Portillon approached. Yates still had his lead as he cut through the technical descent, but the gap was already coming down.
Meanwhile, Alaphilippe showed off his array of skills to close the gap to just 15 seconds. Up ahead, Yates was still holding firm, but with just a few kilometres of the stage remaining, the British climber slipped on a corner and came down on his side. Alaphillippe flew by, and but for a brief look back from the Frenchman, the stage was already sealed.
"It's just one of those things. I've taken more risks on more technical descents and never had any problems," Yates said after crossing the line to take third.
"We don't recon all the stages, and sometimes you don't know what's coming up on some of these corners. It was a bit damp and I came down."
When asked about the extent of his injuries, Yates talked about the emotional loss rather than the skin he deposited on the side of the road on the way to Luchon.
"Just bad morale," he said. "When you come so close to winning a stage of the Tour it's pretty devastating, not just for me but for the team. We've been working for a while on trying to do something, and when you come that close it's disappointing."
Yates came into the Tour with the hope of challenging for a spot on the podium at least. He came through the first week with his chances enhanced, but he was dropped on the stage to La Rosiere. On the following stage to Alpe d'Huez, his ambitions went completely up in smoke.
After signing a two-year extension with Mitchelton on the Tour's second rest day in Carcassonne, a stage win in the Pyrenees would have been the perfect tonic to his GC blues. However, when Alaphilippe has you in his sights you're a marked man. Yates is no slouch when it comes to descending, but Alaphilippe came through without a single mistake, and on such margins victories are sealed.
"He's pretty good," Yates said. "I raced him back as an under-23, and I know how good he is. I had a healthy lead, and if I'm honest I'm pretty good on the descents as well. It's one of those things. If you mess up one of those corners you go down."
Asked whether he could have attacked earlier on the Col de Portillon, Yates responded: "It was the place I chose to go. You pick your moment and I picked that one. I could tell that everyone was hurting a little bit. I went when I wanted to and that's about it."
Tomorrow's short stage consists of three climbs in 65km of racing. On paper, the profile is perfect for Yates, but only a good night's sleep and some excellent recovery will see him try and contend for another stage win.