After winning the toughest stage of the Volta a Catalunya on Wednesday and moving into second place overall, Adam Yates' hopes of moving into the lead on Thursday's stage 4 were dashed by Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
The Mitchelton-Scott rider was able to respond far quicker on La Molina's uneven slopes when Egan Bernal (Team Sky) once again launched a driving attack almost at an identical distance to Tuesday at Vallter 2000. And it briefly looked as if Yates was on track to inherit the leader's jersey from Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), dropped, as the Belgian had predicted, at the foot of the final climb.
However, when Lopez went clear for good, the Mitchelton-Scott leader could not follow. Simon Yates then bridged across, giving his brother strong support in the final kilometres before Adam punched away again, this time with Bernal on his wheel. However, by then Lopez was too far away to catch and Yates had to settle for fifth on the line.
Adam Yates did not talk to reporters at the finish, heading straight to the team bus almost immediately after he finished. But Mitchelton-Scott management on the race later praised the Briton for handling a tough situation as best he could.
"It was hard to control it all but Adam did a great job, riding calmly and collectively," sports director Julian Dean told Cyclingnews afterwards, “and he was able to bring that gap [on Lopez] back."
"It got to nine or ten seconds and then suddenly it went out to 24 seconds and I'm not sure what happened there. But obviously it was a great ride by Lopez."
Dean recognised the climb was not straightforward to read at a tactical level for Adam Yates, given there were several different riders for the Briton, as virtual leader of the race, to keep under control. Quite apart from López, Bernal had been very strong the day before, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was also very much in the running.
"Definitely," Dean said. "It’s always tricky in those situations. I thought it was a very brave move by Lopez and you have to give him full credit, we saw that Bernal was quite aggressive yesterday and we didn't see that so much today.
"Adam was definitely the stronger of the two today, but Lopez was stronger than all of them."
Although Lopez's 14 seconds difference on Adam Yates on GC may not seem much, and there are time bonuses on offer all the way to Barcelona, the race has been won by less in the past, pointed out Dean. Furthermore, with three relatively straightforward days of racing now to come, no time trial and the high mountains behind them, after this stage it would be difficult to pull back time on Lopez.
Overall, in fact, although Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) has fallen out of the frame, Adam Yates remains in second overall, with Bernal still three seconds behind and Quintana at eight seconds. The battle for the podium, therefore, remains open between these three riders, even if Lopez seems almost unreachable.
"Today was really the last day where you can make a big difference but there's going to be opportunities along the way and we'll sit down and examine those opportunities," Dean said.
"Certainly, the last day on Montjuic is always a very challenging day, and GC spots have changed there in the past. Simon [Yates] was much better today, so we’ve certainly got some strategies left to unleash.
"And Movistar are going to be very aggressive from hereon too, so we'll try and contribute and profit from that. So who knows what could happen."
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