Since Adam Yates dropped out of the GC picture at the Tour France, Mitchelton-Scott have been throwing riders up the road in a bid to win stages. On stage 18 to Pau, it was the turn of Classics specialists Luke Durbridge and Mat Hayman, while Mikel Nieve and Yates were tactically dispatched in breaks during the Alps and Pyrenees. So far the Australian team have come up short, but their motivation to win a stage with three stages left remains undimmed.
Stage 19 offers one last chance in the Pyrenees, while the final stages are a time trial and a sprint into Paris.
"We want to have someone in the break, whether it's Adam, Mikel or both," directeur sportif Matt White told Cyclingnews from Mitchelton's team hotel on Thursday evening. "We'll see how things pan out with Adam's injury. He might be feeling better tomorrow.
"We're not going to stop. We're not the only team in this position, but we're going to give ourselves a chance of winning a stage, and that's all we can do."
Friday's final stage in the Pyrenees is arguably the hardest, covering just over 200 kilometres and including a clutch of climbs that include the Col d'Aspin, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d'Aubisque, before a technical descent to the finish.
Team Sky are likely to control the stage, but will be willing to let a break go as they concentrate on protecting Geraint Thomas' yellow jersey. With a number of teams still searching for their first stage win, the battle to infiltrate the morning break will be intense, and a race within itself.
Mitchelton have made a number of key breaks in the race, but have come up short or suffered horrendous luck – such as when Yates crashed while leading the Tour into Luchon on stage 16.
"It's going to be super-aggressive because there are a lot of teams that will want to make the breakaway," continued White. "For Sky, the priority is to win the bike race, and not the stage, but as it's not flat at the start, it's going to be really hard from the beginning. There are teams that haven't won stages in the mountains but if the quality in the break is good then it has a chance to survive to the finish."
Although Yates was again in the break on stage 17, he was still nursing his injuries from his stage 16 crash. Nieve, who has won stages in the Vuelta and Giro, may be the team's best card to play, especially with the race heading into the Pyrenees.
"All the Basque riders love to race in the Pyrenees," White said, "and Mikel will be as motivated as anyone to race in front of those crowds."
As for Yates, the team will monitor his health before deciding if he goes on the attack on Friday. White added that the British climber will ride an all-out effort during Saturday's 31km time trial as, although Yates is out of the GC picture, the use of the TT profile will provide the rider and the team's backroom staff with useful data that can be used at a later date.
"The GC guys don't get that many TT efforts in a year," said White. "So Adam is going to put in a big effort on Saturday, just for experience. Even though we're not in the running for the GC anymore, I don't know when his next time trial will be – especially one when he's as fatigued as he is now.
"This will be a good process for him to go through, so that next time he is riding for the GC, he'll have that experience to rely on. You can't waste those opportunities."
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