When Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) appeared at the front of the exclusive group of general classification contenders on the steep concrete path up the Monte Oiz, it came as something of a jolt. You'd be forgiven for forgetting that there were two Yates at the Vuelta a España, such had been Adam's relative anonymity for the first 16 stages, but his performance for his brother Simon on the Basque mountain indicated he will play a leading role in the denouement of this race.
While Simon Yates had always planned to target the overall title, after coming close to winning the Giro d'Italia, Adam came to the Vuelta on the back of a disappointing Tour de France, with the stated aim of gaining experience by putting another Grand Tour in the bank.
Yet there was a deeper reason Yates had been so quiet for so much of the Vuelta, and that was specifically so that he could have maximum impact in the final week. On the top of Monte Oiz, the red jersey described his twin brother as his 'secret weapon'. Sections of the Spanish media talked of a 'four-legged Yates'.
"That was always the plan. When it's been a bit of an easier day or not as important I've been staying out of trouble. The first nine days everyone is fresh and raring to go, but I was just sitting up and saving energy," Adam Yates told Cyclingnews in Ejea de los Caballeros on Thursday.
"You do save a lot. When you sit up with 10km to go and it's a 10km climb you can save a lot of energy. It makes it a lot easier when you've had a lot of rest days, compared to these guys, who are on it day in day out, and suffering. I'm a lot fresher than everyone else and that's an advantage for us."
The slipstream may have counted for precious little on the 20 per cent gradients of Monte Oiz but, even so, Adam Yates' presence, as contenders like Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) fell away, was no doubt a morale boost for Simon, not to mention it giving the option of a well-fitting replacement bike in the event of an untimely mechanical problem.
In any case, it was a statement of collective strength to their rivals – it should be pointed out Jack Haig put in another impressive shift – ahead of the big Andorran double-header on Friday and Saturday that will decide the final destination of the red jersey.
"It's a luxury that no other team has," Mitchelton-Scott directeur sportif Matt White told Cyclingnews.
"We spoke about this at the end of the Tour de France. I remember clearly on the day of the time trial we spoke about changing his programme and having another Grand Tour in the legs. And we knew the last week was going to be crucial here. We had a good recovery block after the Tour then it was about riding into the Vuelta and being there for Simon in the last week. The first half of the race it was the plan for him to do his bit then sit up at a certain point – for the first 10-12 days we really gave him no option, but he was down with the plan straight away.
"Knowing that we have a world class climber who hasn't opened up until yesterday, it's a big benefit, and a big boost for Simon, knowing he has a guy – and especially his brother – by his side the next couple days."
The Yates twins both live in Andorra and so will be racing on 'home' roads as the Vuelta reaches its climax, with Friday's summit finish on the Coll de la Rabassa followed by a brutal Saturday stage that packs four major climbs into 97 kilometres.
"We know the roads," said Adam Yates. "We know they're difficult, long, steep climbs. We know the roads so it makes it a little easier, knowing where we're going You know that if you're suffering you've only got so far to go. We can use that to our advantage."
The margins at the top of the general classification are tight, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lurking at just 25 seconds, but Adam insisted his brother, who cracked dramatically when leading the Giro d'Italia at the same juncture, was relaxed.
"He's always relaxed. Not just Simon but the whole team," he said. "We're just doing what we can, working well together. There's a lot of pressure to chase the breaks down and control the race but we have the team to do it and so far we've done a great job. We've just got to keep going for Simon all the way to the end."
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