Ineos Grenadiers' Adam Yates admitted that the team had to dig deep to respond to Lennard Kämna’s long-distance attack in the Volta a Catalunya, but for the third stage in a row, the British team ended the day on a high note.
Previously 13th overall, at just over 90 seconds back, the Bora-Hansgrohe rider attacked out of a break with 52 kilometres to go, and opened up a gap of more than three and half minutes at one point.
But the German’s gutsy breakaway disintegrated half-way up the 18-kilometre Port Ainé, and from then on the tide flowed strongly in Ineos Grenadiers' favour. Given this was the hardest stage of the race, there’s every chance, too, the tide will continue to flow like that all the way to Barcelona on Sunday.
Ineos Grenadiers' iron grip on the GC contenders group, combined with a stiff headwind, saw no real attacks materialize by his main challengers on the Port Ainé. And with Rohan Dennis and Richie Carapaz working hard early on, then Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas guiding him into the finish, Yates remained safely in the top spot overall.
“It was a really tough stage, we were happy with the [early] break, but then Kämna jumped across, and he’s not so far down on GC, and we had to pull quite hard, harder than we wanted to,” Yates told reporters afterwards.
“Obviously it was a big day with a big climb, but all in all you saw today we had a super-strong team, the boys did a great job keeping me out of trouble. So now it’s onto the next one.”
Fourth on the stage, Yates remains with his previous 45-second cushion on GC on teammate Richie Porte. He also has a 49-second advantage on Geraint Thomas, who moved into the third spot overall as Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step), nominally Ineos biggest threat, “ran out of legs, as the Portuguese rider put it himself, in the final kilometre.
The one top prize on offer on Thursday that escaped Ineos Grenadiers clutches was the stage win, taken by Esteban Chaves (Team Bike Exchange) with a solo attack seven kilometres from the line. But Yates, with his eye firmly on taking the main prize in Barcelona, was, he said, “really happy” that his former team-mate had won.
“In the end we have enough time on GC for now, we just have to control things as much as possible and stay out of trouble. It’s been a good day,” Yates, second in the Volta a Catalunya in 2019, said.
In other Voltas a Catalunya over the last decade, whoever had the leader’s jersey coming out of the Pyrenees halfway through the race was more or less certain to keep it in its three remaining stages, which all too often lacked any real opportunities for GC attackers to succeed.
But this time around, the course is - thankfully - a lot trickier, starting with the first category ascent of Montserrat late on on Friday’s stage, and Yates was logically cautious on Thursday about counting his Catalan chickens before they hopefully hatch for him on Sunday afternoon in Montjuic.
“The next two stages are almost 200km in length, and it’s going to be tricky, technical stuff, we’ll have to save energy and stay out of trouble because it’s a bit more difficult than it looks on paper,” Yates said.
“The Barcelona is one of the hardest stages on the whole calendar, take it day by day, see how tomorrow goes and take it from there.”
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