Orica-BikeExchange's Simon Yates said he has every expectation that the final week of the Vuelta a Espana will be as hard-fought a battle as the Spanish Grand Tour has been up to now, and that both he and teammate Esteban Chaves, third overall, will "keep plugging away on the overall" all the way to Madrid.
In the tumultuous stage 15 to Aramon-Formigal, Yates finished 21st and having stayed in Froome's group throughout, lost a spot overall, dropping from fourth at 2:17 to fifth at 5:07. Chaves, having attacked Froome late on the Aramon-Formigal climb, remains in third, but lost considerable time in the overall and now sits 3:57 behind Quintana.
Speaking before stage 16 to Peñiscola - during which he was involved in a minor crash, which team sources said had only caused him a slight injury in one knee, Yates told a small group of reporters, "we're still third on GC [with Chaves], so we will keep pulling away, try not to make mistakes and keep going."
Yates himself suffered on the short but very intense stage to Aramon-Formigal, explaining afterwards, "I was pretty tired from the big effort before [with his break to the Aubisque on Saturday - Ed.] but it was OK. We were all expecting a hard stage, specially 'cos it was so short, and I managed to get through. I lost some time but I'm not really so important [as Chaves]."
As for how the second Pyrenean stage itself had played out with the Contador-Quintana break, Yates said, "It was pretty full gas at the start, there wasn't much time to move up or to get across to it [the Quintana-Contador break] or do anything, we had to do the best we could do and I think we did that pretty well. So it is what it is."
The Contador-Quintana break was one which he thought could go the distance once it had gone well clear of the bunch.
"You could see there were some strong boys there, it wasn't just the GC guys, there were a lot of guys gunning for stages in it too. I could feel the effort from the previous day, I wasn't fresh there, that's for sure."
As for what kind of ripple effect of the Quintana-Contador break will now have on the Vuelta's mountain stages to come, Yates expects a lot of reaction from up to four different groups in the peloton.
"There are a lot of good guys left with something to play for, a lot of guys who are still motivated and probably there's some with some sour grapes from Sunday's stage and guys who want to lick their wounds, too."
As for himself, Yates is cautious about what he can do, saying " I've only finished more than one Grand Tour, so I've got to be wary about getting through as well." On current evidence, though, a strong third week in the Vuelta for Yates could very well be on the cards.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.
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