Although Mitchelon-Scott are not ruling anything out at this year's Giro d'Italia, the team are focused on winning a stage in the final week, rather than the aim of catapulting Simon Yates onto the final podium in Verona in a week's time.
Yates currently sits eighth overall, but his race has improved massively in the last couple of days. He took a drubbing in the stage 9 time trial and lost time on the subsequent mountain stages to leave him 24th overall after stage 11. However, he bounced back at Pinerolo on stage 12 and the finished second and third on stages 14 and 15 respectively after two much-improved performances. While other riders are beginning to wilt, Yates appears to be finding the form he had during the opening time trial of the race. He is still several minutes off the podium but his momentum and trajectory as the race moves into the deciding week mean that he cannot be ignored.
"Simon has started to find his legs, and he's moving in the right direction, which is a really good sign for us as we head into the final brutal week of the race," Yates' director, Matt White told Cyclingnews on Monday afternoon.
Mitchelton-Scott and Yates have been coy over the exact reasons as to why the team leader dropped form mid-way through the race, but White and the team's new strategy is built around attempting to win and supporting Yates. A postmortem of the team's tactics and Yates' up and down form will not take place until after the Giro's conclusion. For now, the challenge for the Australian team is to rescue race with a stage win. Yates' continued improvement on GC will not be shunned or ignored but the team are keeping their cards close to their chest on exactly how far their climber can improve.
"We have some ideas but at the moment we're just looking at the now. After the race we'll sit down and look at things from a strategic point of view but right now we're just concentrating on what's coming up. We can't change the past and who knows where he's going to be in the next few days but we're excited to see how things go from now until the end. In terms of the GC, we came here to ride GC and nothing has changed. It's also a very important process for the team to go through, but for now we are just thinking on the immediate future." White added.
Yates currently has Jan Polanc and Bauke Mollema in his sights in the overall standings, with both riders having suffered in the last few days. Mikel Landa could well be sacrificed for Richard Carapaz and the defense of the maglia rosa, while Rafal Majka has shown glimpses of weakness in the high mountains. It's not inconceivable the Yates could find himself inside the top-five by the end of the race's queen stage on Tuesday evening.
"Because the race can get tipped upside down, it's hard to predict. If one guy from the front group has a bad day they could be out of the top five. If you have a bad day in the Giro the gaps are substantial. There's no other Grand Tour where you can see a rider implode like you do here. That's because the racing is so tough and the weather has been so average this year. You can see cracks appearing in guys, for sure.
"We came here to race and although we have a different plan from at the start we'll play it by ear. We have plans for the next couple of days. For us, the podium is a long shot but if you don't try you will never know where those limits are."
At the finish of stage 15, Yates was pleased with his ever-improving condition.
"The legs are just working now, instead of not working, so I'm just able to... I think also in the days before I wasn't able to go over my limit and really recover, I think once I went over, that was kind of it and now I'm able to go over it and race normally, which is obviously making a big difference when you are making those accelerations or someone starts riding or whatever," he said.
"We still have a hard final week, I will not start making claims that I'm back or anything again now because [ed. some were] a bit pissed off at me then. I feel better. I just hope it stays that way."
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