When Simon Yates was seen dropping back through the peloton, shortly before the ascent to Alcala de los Gazules on stage 1 of the Ruta del Sol, it looked as if the Mitchelton-Scott rider might well be taking something of a back seat in his opening stage race of the season.
A long turn on the front of the bunch on stage 2's interminable grind across central Andalucia close to the final suggested otherwise, though. And on Friday, a more than respectable eighth place on the time trial, with a brief spell in the provisional lead til he was ousted from there by his brother Adam, provided further evidence to the contrary.
However, the terrain catered to Yates' strengths, the high mountains, where the 2018 Vuelta a España winner made it clearest of all that he was doing anything but getting in the miles. He launched a devastating double attack on the Hazallanas, by far the hardest single climb of the Ruta del Sol.
With a relatively narrow 44-second advantage at the top, Yates had to take risks on the long descent back into Granada, but he made it, crossing the line repeatedly raising his arms in victory. Yates has never won so early in the year, he pointed out later, but Saturday's victory was the kind that lingered long in the memory regardless of how many times Yates has done this before.
"It was a very short, very explosive stage," Yates told reporters. "I had much better legs than in the first couple of days, so I'm really happy.
"Of course, I'm off the GC, so I maybe had a bit more freedom, and everyone wanted to put pressure on [former leader] Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal). So I went early and the selection was made and the rest of the racing sorted itself out.
"Astana did most of the job on the first climb of the day and then we thought we'd try something on the next couple of climbs and it evolved from there."
Yates' first win of 2019 is the tenth win of the season for Mitchelton-Scott and comes just a couple of weeks after his brother Adam, fifth in Saturday's stage, triumphed in the hardest leg of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
His stage win came on a day when Mitchelton-Scott had several cards to play, with Adam Yates sticking with the Fuglsang group and Jack Haig, previously their best placed rider overall in fifth, also present early on the Hazalllanas climb.
Asked if he was going for the stage win or waiting to see if his brother and/or Haig could bridge across, Yates told Cyclingnews "a bit of both. We didn't really want to ride behind. It could have been a launchpad or it could have been me going by myself. It ended up being me by myself, but it could have gone either way."
Yates said that whilst the ultra-fast descent mainly on a large A-road before it reached the outskirts of Granda, at speeds touching up to 100 kph, would normally have been a more hair-raising experience, his local knowledge from training camps in the area helped matters considerably.
"I know the roads very well round here, the roads were a little bit greasy and on a few corners I thought I'd overcooked it a little bit, but it's such a big road, you've got a lot of room to correct mistakes.
"But knowing the descent was more important because a climb at 10 per cent is pretty much the same wherever you are in the world."
Yates said that he was confident he had the stage win with a margin at 45 seconds at the top of the final climb. "[I was] really confident when I came off the climb, but then I heard the gap was coming down and I thought maybe I've messed this up here. But I kept plugging away and managed to come away with the win."
Yates next races will be Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and the Giro d'Italia.
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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