Giro d'Italia: Simon Yates cuts to the chase at Mount Etna

For Simon Yates, the maglia rosa. For Esteban Chaves, the stage victory. Mitchelton-Scott could not have asked for more atop Mount Etna on stage 6 of the Giro d'Italia. Two teammates, two races within a race, and two prizes.

Two very different personalities, too. While Chaves flashed his megawatts smile atop the podium and playfully tossed his bouquet of flowers to the tifosi below, Yates' body language was more restrained, though his smile was no less genuine.

In the press tent by the finish area, Chaves retold the story of his dramatic stage victory in considerable detail in Spanish, Italian and English. Yates was more perfunctory in recounting his journey to the pink jersey, though the lack of loquaciousness should not be mistaken for a lack of substance.

The Briton was frank and to the point when asked to outline his principal goal on this Giro.

"To win, of course," Yates said.

"The overall?" his interviewer continued.

"Yes, of course," Yates shrugged.

Why else was he here?

The first mountain stage of the Giro provided the first major battleground for the general classification contenders, but, surprisingly, the opening salvoes were fired not on the slopes of Mount Etna, but on an anonymous stretch of road in the province of Enna, with more than 100 kilometres still to race.

A break of 28 riders forced its way clear with Chaves aboard – as well as emissaries from Team Sky, Sunweb and FDJ – and the strongmen in the move would survive all the way to the steep final kilometres of the novel ascent of Etna.

Five kilometres from home, Chaves jumped clear of the break, while half a minute or so down the road, the pink jersey group was beginning to fragment as the gradient stiffened. With his teammate up ahead, Yates had the relative luxury of tracking the moves as Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) forced the issue.

After they had punched themselves out, Yates delivered a sharp acceleration of his own with 1,500 metres remaining – "He kicked like a bull," as Bennett put it – and immediately opened a sizeable gap on the rest of the Giro favourites. By the time Yates reached the flamme rouge, he was almost upon Chaves. He caught the Colombian within sight of the line, but waved him through to claim the stage honours.

"In the end, it was a really a perfect day," Yates said. "It wasn't really the plan for Esteban to go in the breakaway but it was very crazy in the start, a lot of guys went up the road, and he just happened to be there.

"I had good legs, and I felt really good. I didn't have to do anything because Esteban was up the road. I could sit in the wheels and save some energy. I just saw a bit of a moment where we'd been riding quite hard for a little bit, and I had a very small gap. I thought OK, this is my moment."

The overall classification

Yates reached the finish some 26 seconds clear of Pinot, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Chris Froome (Sky) et al., more than enough to see him divest Rohan Dennis (BMC) of the pink jersey. In the overall standings, Yates is now 16 seconds clear of Dumoulin, and 26 up on Chaves, while he holds a handsome buffer of 1:10 over Froome.

"From the beginning in Israel, I wanted to take the jersey. I just want to do the best I can," Yates said as he shivered against the cold in the mixed zone. "It's a special moment to pull on the jersey and be here now. I don't know what else to say."

A couple of yards to his right, a beaming Chaves was saying quite a lot of it for him, pointing the collective strength of the Mitchelton-Scott team and highlighting the heavy lifting performed by Jack Haig, who rode prominently to help the early break establish its initial three-minute lead.

Yates, seated on a low chair while the Giro press pack huddled around him, picked up on the same theme. Thursday's stage suggested that Chaves and Yates form the strongest tandem in the high mountains, but with riders like Svein Tuft and Roman Kreuziger on board, few squads in this Giro have the same depth as Mitchelton-Scott.

"From the beginning, I said I believe we have the strongest team here – not just climbers but for the flat too. I think we can do a really good job of defending the jersey," said Yates, who ruefully recalled his last experience of holding a leader's jersey, at Paris-Nice in March, when he conceded yellow on the final day.

"I have a little bit of experience of holding a leader's jersey already, and hopefully that can help me in the next few stages. I'll try not to lose it like I lost it at Paris-Nice."

It is all too easy to forget that Yates is just 25 years of age and a Giro debutant, yet it's hard to imagine that his relative inexperience will prove a handicap over the days and weeks to come. Unseating him will be no easy task.

"We came as a team to try to win," Yates said. "It looks good, I think."

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