After seeing their GC hopes go up in smoke on stage 14 of the Tour de France on Saturday, the Mitchelton-Scott team bounced back in emphatic style to win stage 15, with Simon Yates claiming his second stage win of the race, and his team's third.
On the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet, on the first of the weekend's visit to the Pyrenees, the team's GC leader, Adam Yates, endured a disappointing day, and was dropped on both of the last two climbs before eventually seeing his hopes of a high overall place slip away for a second season in a row.
With several mountain stages to go, the Australian WorldTour squad still had ample opportunities to salvage their second half of the race, and they did so through Adam Yates's brother Simon, who infiltrated the early break and then attacked with CCC Team's Simon Geschke on the penultimate climb. Yates – the winner of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana – then went solo on the lower slopes of the final climb of Prat d'Albis, and, despite a rapid chase from Movistar's Mikel Landa and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), the British climber stayed away to win.
"I'm very proud of what I did," Simon Yates said at the finish. "It was an extremely hard day, really from the start to the finish. I raced the way I like to – trying to be aggressive – and I managed to pull it off. I'm really happy.
"Today was the other day that I would have had a chance, so nothing really changed for me. I was just taking it with both hands. Adam was not really great yesterday, but he's a great rider, and he'll be back. No worries about that.
"I was worried that they were catching me," he continued. "I was trying at the bottom of the climb… I had Simon [Geschke] with me, and he was a really good companion all the way through the valley and on the descent. He did a really good job, but I really needed to go at that point. I wasn't really confident about staying away. We needed to go early and make sure we had a big enough gap. That's what I did in the end. I'm very tired now; that one took a lot of effort. There are some more chances, so we'll see what it holds."
At the finish in Foix, Mitchelton-Scott's head sports director, Matt White, praised how his riders had rallied after the setback on the Tourmalet the previous day. He was emotional in the team car, with tears in his eyes, as Yates won the stage.
White explained that it hadn't been difficult to pick his riders up, and that each of them would have their chance to target stages between the second rest day on Monday and the Tour's finale in Paris next weekend.
"Simon was totally rested after the Giro d'Italia, so he wasn't ready to go in the first week of the race, and we were deliberately sandbagging him and making sure that he sat up every day. We knew what was coming. We sat down in October and said that Simon was the leader for the Giro and that Adam was the leader for the Tour," White said concerning the team's GC ambitions and how Simon Yates approached the Tour after competing in the Giro in May.
"I think we can be a thorn in the side of several teams between now and next Sunday because we've got nothing to lose. The GC is finished for us, but we've got some great climbers in super shape. There will be some surprises between here and Paris.
"It's also a win in the Tour, so regardless of what has happened, it's an incredible feat," White added.
"It just shows the strength of this organisation, and how we can turn around from adversity in such a short period. Some teams would be moping around with their heads down and not looking at the race like we do. We wanted to go after today's stage, and the most effective way, for me, to turn around disappointment is to go on the attack. You've got to do it smartly but we were very, very motivated to win today.
"Picking them up was my job. I don't find that difficult. The boys know me, I know them. When you've got a special relationship with your athletes, you can get the best out of them," he said.
White will be hoping for more from his riders on the road to Paris. Matteo Trentin and Daryl Impey – already a winner in the race, on stage 9 – will target anything that looks like a breakaway or transition stage, while both of the Yates twins and Australia's Jack Haig will be on the attack in the mountains.
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