Simon Yates' chances of winning the Giro d'Italia took a serious blow on Sunday when the Mitchelton-Scott rider suffered a considerably larger than expected time loss on leading favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).
Mitchelton-Scott management had estimated that Yates' time loss could be between 30 and 40 seconds on Roglič on the demanding 34-kilometre time trial to San Marino, with the expectation he would be at a disadvantage on the flatter first section then limit the gaps on the second category climb to the finish.
Instead, the opposite occurred, with Yates ceding just 48 seconds on the flatter segment to the Slovenian, but then shipping serious amounts of time on the climb. He was 51st fastest up the 12-kilometre climb, shedding 2:23 to Roglič.
Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal), who came second, had predicted "more than a minute" between most of the favourites and Roglič. But Yates lost 3:11 on Roglič, only slightly less than teammate Esteban Chaves.
Overall, Yates is now at 5:36 on GC leader Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates), but more importantly for the long-term, the Briton is 3:46 down on Roglič, a margin that puts him at a serious disadvantage for the second half of the Giro d'Italia.
"I had a bit of a stinker," Yates said later. "I was going OK on the flat section there, but when I tried to step on it once we reached the climb, I just didn't have anything."
Yates was only 51st fastest up the climb to the finish, losing 2:23 to Roglič, who was the quickest on the ascent.
"It's one of those things. We'll have to come up with a new plan now, a new strategy and go from there."
Yates was not the only climber to have a bad day. Mikel Landa (Movistar) lost 3:03 to Roglič, whilst Miguel Ángel López (Astana Pro Team), third overall last year, lost 3:45, far more than the two minutes total he had hoped to cede in the time trials.
Before Sunday, it had seemed that Yates' time trialling had improved a great deal in the last 12 months. The Briton had done well in the opening time trial in Bologna, finishing second, and had also shown considerable signs of improvement in previous time trials, all the way back to last year's main Giro d'Italia test.
A strong result in last year's Vuelta a España time trial was a foundation stone of Yates' overall victory, and in Paris-Nice this year, he unexpectedly won the time trial.
The good news for Yates is that there is a great deal of climbing to come, albeit after a rest day and two more pan-flat stages which taking the Giro westwards across the Po Valley in central Italy, and as he pointed out "we're still early on in the race."
"We'd only done one effort before and that was in the prologue [in Bologna], all the other days have been flat and in the wheels. I'm looking forward to getting more and more in the mountains to see what we can do." If Yates is to have any chance of getting back on GC terms, only a very aggressive race strategy in the mountains can turn things around for the Briton.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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