Yates successfully defended his pink jersey lead another day with Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), the time trial world champion, nipping at his heels. He lost, but only 1-15 minutes to Dumoulin over the 34.2 kilometres from Trento down the valley to Rovereto.
“I’m very satisfied,” Yates said in his 11th day in the pink jersey.
“The first 25 kilometres were really good, I had a really good rhythm. I felt good, but the final 10 were horrific. I was really dying a thousand deaths. I managed to hold it together. I am still here in the jersey, and I’m extremely happy.”
Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) won the time trial ahead of Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), while Dumoulin placed third at 22 seconds back and 1-15 minutes ahead of Yates.
Yates kept his pink jersey with a buffer of 56 seconds on Dumoulin.
“I’ve done some good short time trials, but for a long one, this was my best,” said the 25-year-old.
“It’s a big step [for the overall win], yes, but not the final step. There is a long way to go, many long stages, but it’s not really over until we arrive in Rome.”
The race arrives in Rome next to the Colosseum on May 27. Before then, the race weaves through the mountains of the north, from east to west. After a stage for sprinters and escapees, Yates will face three testing days that end with mountain climbs.
“I guess in the Vuelta a España or the Tour de France there are back to back mountain days, so it’s not a problem for me. I like the climbs. That’s my territory. Today is other riders’ territory,” Yates said.
“Unfortunately for the fans, maybe I’ll ride a bit more defensively and it won’t be as exciting. There are difficult days to come, I hope to have no bad luck or bad days.”
If Yates wins, he would be the first British rider to do so, just as Dumoulin became the first Dutchman in the race’s 100 editions to take victory.
Yates’s story is not without controversy, under more of a spotlight with Froome’s ongoing case for asthma drug salbutamol. He failed a test for Terbutaline in the 2016 Paris-Nice and sat out for four months. The incident was blamed on the team doctor who said he forgot to file for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).
“What are they saying?” Yates said of the doubters on social media. “Well, I’m always going to get this now regardless of what my performances say because obviously of what happened in the past with me.
“That was an innocent mistake by an innocent person that I will have to deal with for the rest of my career, and I knew that at the time. There’s not really much else to say. I don’t really follow social media all that much.”