Simon Yates' time loss to Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin, Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) on the final climb up to Prato Nevoso was nothing to be concerned about, Yates' Mitchelton-Scott directeur sportif Matt White said after stage 18, and that better was to come on Friday's 19th stage to Bardonecchia, which is far more suited to the race leader's skill-set – even though the attacks will come from their rivals.
The Australian team's no-nonsense Aussie DS was never going to dance around the subject, plainly answering reporters' questions at the finish while maintaining a positive outlook on Yates' chances for the rest of the race.
"It's not ideal that Simon lost time today, but it was a climb that really suited Tom," White said. "It was a power climb – one effort – and we know how powerful Tom is in short efforts. Tomorrow we go back into the real mountains, and it's going to be a bit of a grind tomorrow, so it'll be a different bike race all together."
Asked whether it was a surprise that Yates lost so much time over just a couple of kilometres, White suggested that it was a mere blip on an otherwise virtually faultless performance by his rider over the last two-and-half weeks.
"Maybe it was a bit of a surprise, but that's because Simon hasn't shown any weakness for 19 days," said White. "But if that was a climb of seven or eight kilometres at 10 or 12 per cent, it would have been a different climb all together. Simon's a pure climber, and that was pretty flat and fast today [Thursday] in the final, so it's not ideal, but these next two days are real Alpine climbs and they fall more into Simon's category.
"Tom could have a bad day tomorrow, too," he pointed out. "He's gone very deep today for those last couple of minutes. No one knows how guys are going to react in the third week, and if that was Yates' bad day at this tour, then, well, that's not so bad."
As to whether such a scenario had been talked about on the team bus before the stage, White revealed that the team doesn't concern itself with talking about losing time.
"For 19 days we've talked about gaining time, so it's the first time since we started that we've lost any time," he said, not including the 1:15 that Yates lost to Dumoulin during Tuesday's time trial. "It is what it is. Simon's healthy and feeling good, and we rested a couple of guys today, so we're ready for the battle in the next two days.
"I'm sure Tom's going to be pretty excited that he's put some time into us, because it's the first time anyone's put any time into Simon the whole tour. But everyone's going pretty deep in those elite five or six guys at the top of the GC, and it's really how they back up and handle tomorrow.
"Tomorrow is an incredibly tough day," White said of Friday's 19th stage, which includes the famous climbs of the Colle delle Finestre and Sestriere, and a summit finish on the Monte Jafferau, above the town of Bardonecchia. "But it's not a day where you can be explosive, because it's just such a tough grind.
"We know we've got a strong team here. We know that tomorrow on the Finestre we're going to get attacked. Sky will attack us on the Finestre tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised if Pozzovivo tries. And they will try on the Finestre because I think if they wait until the last climb of the day, if Simon's on a good day, then there's no time to make any difference. Chris Froome has to go. Chris Froome wants to win this tour, or at least get on the podium, and if he leaves it until the last climb of the day, he won't be on the podium."
Are Yates' rivals likely to try to isolate him on the climbs?
"They'll try but we've got Jack Haig, Mikel Nieve… I've got a fair idea of the other teams' plans for tomorrow," said White. "It's not rocket science, and we're not going to go down without a fight, that's for sure."
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