Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had to switch from eyeing a stage win to limiting his time losses on the Giro d'Italia stage three to Mount Etna.
The Briton set out to take victory on the Giro's first summit finish, near where he and Esteban Chaves had been so successful two years ago. While his team-mates were active in controlling the peloton through large parts of the stage, they were put on the defensive as Yates appeared to crack on the climb with 9km to go as the other GC contenders upped the pace.
He ended up finishing the stage 4-22 down on stage winner Jonathan Caicedo (EF Pro Cycling), but more pertinently, sits at just shy of three minutes down on Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and closer to 2-30 down on the likes of Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma).
Yates' sports director, Matt White, now says the team will have to change tact in the Giro, taking a more aggressive approach instead of defending from the front. Before stage three, Yates was just 26 seconds off the best placed GC contenders, Geraint Thomas (Ineos). Thomas crashed in the neutral zone of the stage however, and finished over 12 minutes down on the stage as he appeared to ride through injuries.
"The big game-changer at the start today was Geraint Thomas’ crash in the neutral, who looked like he’d hurt himself pretty bad and clearly, he did," Matt White said.
"We’re one of the favourites for this race and we wanted to win the stage, so we wanted to take control to give ourselves a chance to win.
"The boys did a good job controlling the breakaway and we didn’t have an indication at that time that Simon wasn’t on a good day. Then when we did get an indication Trek-Segafredo had already taken over and they did a job there to try and maybe put some time into Geraint Thomas and push the pace.
"Then when Simon lost time today it was just about limiting our losses. It’s a long race, everyone has a bad day, unfortunately for us it’s early in the race. Hopefully, that’s the last one. We’ll just be coming at it from a different angle now. We we’re looking at coming at it from the front with a couple of early mountain stages and a time trial. Now we’re coming from behind."
Yates, who led the Giro for 13 days in 2018 and won three stages, will no look deeper into the race to claw back time. The race still has plenty of brutal mountains stages to come in its remaining 18 stages, with three huge summit finishes in the final week.
The race still has two time trials to come, with Yates showing on stage one he had the edge over many of the other GC contenders in the race against the clock.
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