Simon Yates looked down and out after losing two minutes to his Giro d'Italia rivals and slipping to 12th after Friday’s mountain finish at Lago Serru. But the Briton got back in the ring and fought back with a show of pride on Saturday during stage 14.
The Mitchelton-Scott leader refused to give up every time he was distanced on the steep Colle San Carlo climb in the finale of the 131km-five climb stage and then chased after the front group containing Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), et al. He even went on the attack in the final kilometres to finish second behind stage winner and new race leader Richard Carapaz (Movistar), gaining 22 seconds on Nibali, Roglic, Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
"Yesterday I wasn't with the best guys and I was very disappointed about that. Maybe it was a bit of relief off the shoulders. I have nothing to lose, I’ve just got to keep fighting," Yates said post-stage after a warm down and a shower, still pragmatic about his level of form after losing 5:21 to Roglic since the start of the Giro in Bologna two weeks ago.
"I wasn’t able to go with the best guys yesterday. I just rode the climb at my own pace, and that’s what I did today. I was better than yesterday, which gives me some confidence," he explained.
"They were also looking at each other in the finale, so I took the opportunity to gain a few seconds. They’re also not looking at me. I’m more than five minutes behind, but I’ll keep plugging away, I’ll just keep fighting. We still have a long way to go.
"I know it’s going to be harder. I am not under any illusions, especially the way the rivals are going. They look very impressive."
Back where he belongs before final week in the mountains
Yates won the Vuelta a Espana last September and came to the Giro d’Italia with the aim of fighting for overall victory, with Mitchelton-Scott backing him all the way. He joking suggested his rivals should be scared of him.
He now faces an uphill battle in the final week in the mountains to save his race, but like Rocky’s trainer Mickey Goldmill, senior directeur sportif Matt White rightly refuses to throw in the towel.
“It’s going in the right direction, and that’s always a good sign; there’s still a lot of racing ahead of us. Yesterday wasn’t a good day, but things change pretty quick in Grand Tours. And it’s a really positive sign for things to come,” White said, far happier in Courmayeur than he had been above the snow line at Lago Serru on Friday.
“Simon rode a very intelligent climb. We know the power those guys were riding in the first kilometers was just unsustainable.
“He was never more than 15 seconds behind. He made a very calculated effort to catch those guys. On the descent, we said to him, ‘Look, if you find a moment and you’re feeling good, go for it’. It worked. We weren’t going to catch Carapaz at that point, but we took some time and he’s got some morale.”
White insisted the top end of the Giro d’Italia is far from decided.
Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos), Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) are only two-and-a-half minutes ahead of Yates, and all could struggle in the final week. Yates could climb up to fifth before the finish in Verona next Sunday.
“This race isn’t finished, and there are a lot of hard stages to go. We have a horrible week next week, so who knows what can happen,” White said.
“But now we’re going into the right direction, and Simon’s back in the group that he belongs in. That’s going to help him in the coming week.”