Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates scored his first-ever time trial victory on stage 5 of Paris-Nice on Thursday, beating Katusha-Alpecin's Nils Politt and Team Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski, who extended his overall lead at the race.
Yates started the day down in 70th place on the GC, almost 20 minutes down on Kwiatkowski. And while the Briton's challenge for the overall is clearly over – in a race he finished second at 12 months ago – his focus remains on May's Giro d'Italia.
The time trial win bodes well for the 26-year-old, who will face three individual time trial tests at this year's Giro: an 8.2km opening stage, with a tough uphill finish to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, followed on stage 9 by 34.7km effort, which again is mainly all uphill from the halfway mark, and then a final, flatter 15.6km test in Verona, which is also the final stage of the race.
While a gifted climber, 2018 Vuelta a España winner Yates has often been unable to match many of his rivals – and in particular the likes of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin – against the clock.
However, Yates credited both the work he's been putting in to improve at riding 'the race of truth' and a TT course that ended up suiting him for his victory on Thursday at Paris-Nice.
"I'm really happy with my performance," Yates said on the Mitchelton-Scott website. "I've been working on my time trial quite a lot for the last few years, but I didn't really expect to be fastest today. At the start of the day I thought it was one for the TT specialists, so especially with how this course was, I'm very happy.
"It was really straightforward," he continued. "There weren't any corners you really needed to brake for. It was just in the skis [tri bars], and so a pretty filthy time trial for a guy of my size.
"The climb in the middle wasn't real hard, but the climb up to the finish line was probably harder, so I'm really happy with what I did today."
Thanks to his low position on the general classification, Yates was one of the earlier starters, and, having set the best time, was left in the 'hot seat' for some time. He had to watch Politt coming within seven seconds of beating his time, and then last-man-off as race leader, Kwiatkowski, try, but ultimately fail, to better his ride.
"The sensations are good for the next few days," said Yates. "I knew I had good form – well, decent form – coming into the race, and just got caught out in the crosswinds [on stages 1 and 2]. It wasn't from a lack of form or anything."
Yates moved up slightly on the GC as a result of the win, but is still in 61st place, 18:17 down on Kwiatkowski, who now leads Sky teammate Egan Bernal by 15 seconds, with Astana's Luis León Sanchez another nine seconds back in third.
Yates' twin brother, Adam, meanwhile, took over the race lead at Tirreno-Adriatico on Thursday, crowning a rather successful day for the family and their Mitchelton-Scott team.
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