Mitchelton-Scott's pedigree in the team time trial was a double-edged sword for Adam Yates on stage 2 of the Tour de France in Brussels. The strength of men like Luke Durbridge and Matteo Trentin offered a robust insurance policy against the kind of losses incurred by AG2R La Mondiale or Movistar, but the Briton had to make sure he reached the finish line in their company. Easier said than done.
"In the beginning, I sat on a little bit just to make sure that I could go to the finish," Yates said afterwards. "We've got some strong guys on the team and they were pulling some real big turns. If I'm pulling turn for turn with these guys, I'm going to go out the arse pretty quick."
11th place on the stage was hardly in line with Mitchelton-Scott's heritage in the discipline – they won the team time trial in Nice in 2013 and placed 4th in Cholet a year ago – but the Australian squad's podium ambitions are centred on the final Sunday in July rather than the first. In the grand scheme of things, Yates made par on the stage, finishing roughly in the middle of the pack of pre-race favourites.
Yates conceded 41 seconds to stage winners Jumbo-Visma, but he limited his losses on the Ineos squad of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal to 21 seconds. The Briton also lost a handful of seconds to Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), but he picked up 24 seconds on Movistar duo Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa, and 38 on Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale).
"We did a good ride but I'm not quite sure on all the splits yet so once we get back to the bus or the hotel, we can have a sit down and take it from there," Yates said. "It's good to get through in one piece. We didn't lose a chunk of time. OK, we lost a little bit but like I keep saying, we'll just take it day by day."
Mitchelton-Scott were down to the minimum of four riders at the finish after Jack Haig swung off on the run-in, and Yates crossed the line in the company of Trentin, Durbridge and Daryl Impey. His brother Simon, meanwhile, lost contact with a shade over 11km to go and came in more than 3 minutes down, confirming for once and for all that he is here to act as a deluxe domestique rather than serve as a co-leader.
"I think for all teams it's a stressful day. It's not easy getting all eight guys coordinated and ready to go. But throughout the years I've been on this team we've done a good job of that," said Adam Yates.
Sunday's collective effort, where Jumbo-Visma won with a blistering average speed of 57.2kph, was, by definition, a unique test on this Tour. The time gained and lost counts on the general classification, of course, but it was impossible extrapolate too much about the form of individual GC contenders from their performances.
"It was too fast for that, I guess. It's still early in the race, only stage 2," Yates said as stood outside a Mitchelton-Scott van past the finish line. "But I'd say as a team, we can be happy with that. Yeah, we'd have liked to have won and taken some time out of our rivals, but it is what it is."
Yates arrived at this Tour buoyed a fine campaign to this date, seemingly recovered from the illness that forced him out of the Critérium du Dauphiné on the final stage, and with ambitions of improving on his 4th place overall of 2016.
Two days in, Yates is now in 51st place, 51 seconds down on maillot jaune Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma), 21 behind Bernal and Thomas, and 9 behind Pinot. The team time trial has given some definition to the general classification, but the image will remain relatively pixelated until the first summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles on Thursday.
"Anything can happen in the first week – you can crash and lose a minute pretty easily – but I think once we get to the first mountain stage and we get that out of the way, then we'll start seeing the picture more," said Yates.
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