The Englishman, however, did so for much of the Monte Terminillo climb today in central Italy. Quintana won solo with 18 seconds over Geraint Thomas (Sky) and 24 seconds over Yates – the first time two Brits ever placed top three together in the Tirreno-Adriatico's 52 years.
"It was pretty full-gas at the moment when Quintana attacked," Yates said by telephone.
"You just have to try to hold on when he goes. I felt OK and when he attacks, you've got to get on a wheel and try to limit your losses."
The 24-year-old rode well considering this was his first serious day of the 2017 season. He chased an early attack at five kilometres out in the 16.1-kilometre climb, went with Thomas briefly and broke free with Thomas, Quintana and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac).
Quintana rode clear with two kilometres remaining. Thomas chased solo behind and Yates dislodged Urán. Yates, who placed ninth overall in 2015, called it "a pretty good performance."
"It's pretty much the first big effort like that on a long climb this season, so I'm happy."
Yates sits second overall at 33 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and holds the white jersey for best young rider. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) is at 56 seconds.
Much could change in tomorrow's stage of 'muri' or wall-like climbs to Fermo and of course in the final time trial stage on Tuesday.
"We've still got a couple of days to try something and see what happens. Quintana is looking pretty strong, but you never know,” Yates explained.
"I don't know the stage [to Fermo]. All the stages so far, we've done in previous editions of Tirreno, but not this one.
"I'm feeling good. If there's an opportunity, then I'll try, but I don't think it'll be easy and it'll probably be pretty controlled. When Quintana has the lead like that, Movistar usually does a good job. Of course, if there's a chance, I'll go for it."
Yates and his twin brother Simon, who won on Friday in Paris-Nice, will lead Orica-Scott in the Giro d'Italia this May. After a slow start in the Volta a Valenciana and an altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada, Tirreno-Adriatico showed he is "on track" for the grand tour.
"It's shows I'm on track," he continued. "I knew where I was with my preparation and it's good to find out in a race with a big effort. Everything is on track."
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