When Simon Yates jumped from the group of favourites with 10 kilometres of the Coll de la Rabassa still to climb, it seemed to catch everyone off guard, even his own brother and teammates.
The standard modus operandi for a race leader this close to the end of a Grand Tour is to defend and mark the moves of the closest rival, but Yates clearly felt that attack was the best form of defense and went from range on Friday to extend his lead in the overall standings with just one key stage to go in the Vuelta a Espana.
As he bridged over to Steven Kruijswijk and Nairo Quintana, who dropped away before stage winner Thibaut Pinot made his way over, it seemed to catch everyone off guard. There was no immediate response from the other GC contenders, and no coordinated chase thereafter, allowing Yates to put more than a minute into second-placed Alejandro Valverde, whom he now leads by 1:38.
“I was little bit surprised he went so early,” Jack Haig, one of Yates two key mountain domestiques, told Cyclingnews.
“I sort of said to him, ‘I don’t have so much left I can maybe hold the gap, but I can’t really bring it back. And he was obviously feeling really good and was like ‘ah, alright, I’ll go’.
“He went so far out because of tempo that was set. There weren’t so many workers left with 10km to go and he was obviously feeling really good. He knows the climb very well. He knew what he was doing. It was a bit of a risk ahead of tomorrow but to take a minute I think is worth it.”
Simon’s twin brother Adam was similarly taken aback, saying his brother hadn’t told him he was thinking of attacking.
“No, he never does. He just goes when he wants. As long as he’s feeling good that’s all that matters,” he said.
“You know what he’s like these days – when he gets a sniff at it, he likes to attack.
“Already at the bottom of the climb you could see a couple of guys were suffering so he jumped across to that move and that was it then. I was marking behind, making sure there was no chase and no coordination. Quintana kept coming to the front then guys 8th or 9th or 10th on GC started attacking him, then it’d come back and there was no coordination. It worked out pretty well for us.”
Just 97 kilometres separate Simon Yates from a first Grand Tour victory, though they do include no fewer than six climbs on a brutal day in Andorra that could still pack a big twist in this Vuelta a España.
Yates is surely more than happy with his lead of 1:38, though another impulsive attack can never be counted out.
“I expect everyone to come at us tomorrow. Movistar, Astana, and LottoNL-Jumbo will throw everything at us, but we have a strong team here,” said Haig.
“Tomorrow you can only go so hard. Physiologically, you can only go so hard. If we’re smart I think we can distribute the team’s energy across the 97 kilometres and hopefully come away with the result.”