Simon Yates went into the Giro d'Italia's opening time trial hoping to limit losses to his general classification rivals, but the Mitchelton-Scott rider surprised even himself with a top performance on the tricky course in Jerusalem.
Yates covered the 9.7km route in 12:22, just 20 seconds off the time of winner Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) for seventh place. More importantly, he put time into overall riders like Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Chris Froome (Team Sky), Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
"It's my first top 10 in a time trial, and I'm really happy with that," Yates said in a release posted on the team's website.
"I put a lot of work in, and finally we are seeing some improvements. I was pleasantly surprised to make time on some guys, I wasn't expecting that," Yates said. "I was always expecting to lose time, but actually the short sharp climbs suit me more than the long progressive climbs, and once we saw the course we knew it would be a bit more favourable for me."
While the pre-race reco rides claimed several victims, including Froome and Kanstantsin Siutsou (Bahrain-Merida), Yates' pre-ride paid off with a new perspective on the course.
"In the recon we actually realised the course was much harder than we thought it would be, and for sure that was a massive advantage," he said. "There were a couple of tricky corners and some of the roads here were really slippery, so we had to be careful there with a few guys crashing earlier."
Yates will face the two upcoming likely sprinters' stages in Israel with a nice buffer over his rivals, including 13 seconds to Pinot, 17 seconds to Froome, 30 seconds to Aru and 36 seconds to Lopez. Dumoulin, of course, leads Yates by 22 seconds, and Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) is 18 seconds ahead. The next test for the climbers will come during the stages in Sicily, culminating with the stage 6 assault on Mt. Etna.
Mitchelton-Scott's Esteban Chaves finished 46 seconds back in 40th place, well within striking distance with the climbing yet to come. Director Matt White was obviously pleased with his riders' performances on the first day of the race.
"I think Simon has ridden his best-ever time trial, and it was a course that he has taken some calculated risks on," White said.
"The GC spread is about 50 seconds, between Dumoulin and Lopez, which is a decent spread, but there's a long way to go. No one wants to lose time, but if you can take five or 10 seconds somewhere, it's a bonus."
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