After a lot of pre-race confidence, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) did not have the best of starts to the Giro d'Italia 2019. However, towards the end of the second week the Brit started making up for lost time, clawing back vital seconds on stages 14 and 15.
Despite the performances, the Brit still has the backing of his sports director, Matt White: "Simon is getting better and you can clearly see that."
When it gets to the third week and things haven't necessarily gone your way as a GC rider, the question can arise of whether to persist with the overall or change tact and go for stage wins, White says Yates is still focused on riding himself up the GC: "100% [we are focused on the GC] but I think that this late into the race and on the selective stages, you can see the cream is rising to the top. I think we can still win a stage here and climb our way up the GC. Where to, who knows."
One stage that would have presented a great opportunity for Yates attack and gain back some crucial seconds, should he have had the legs for it, would have been the queen stage on Tuesday's stage 16. However, after poor conditions have led to an altered route, the Cima Coppi of the Gavia pass, the highest point in this year's Giro, has been cut. Not that White thinks this will make the racing any easier.
"My call is that it will be a more aggressive day," White said. "Because the Gavia's not in there, we are replacing two climbs with one. The Gavia's such a solid long climb, you can't be aggressive on the Gavia, with the two smaller climbs I think it'll be more aggressive, it's only 800m less of climbing in total for the day, which still takes it to 4,800m of climbing.
The Australian continued: "It's not necessarily an easier day. The reason why they probably cancelled it is because bad weather is expected, rain, which adds another dimension as well. We have some exciting racing to come and this Giro, as you've seen is far from over."
Yates currently sits eighth on GC, 5-28 down on race leader Richard Carapaz (Movistar), with the Ecuadorian only 47 seconds ahead of race favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).
How does White think Yates will stack up against his rivals? "Guys are getting tired," he said. "It's the end of a very hard two weeks, the long kilometres and the average weather for the first two weeks is catching up with people and this Giro is far from over. We have some very tough stages coming up.
So Yates still has a chance at the overall then by the looks of it. White sounds quietly confident, although remains realistic: "There is a lot of racing to come, I don't' know where we are sitting on the GC, but it doesn't matter, we just got to take it stage by stage, and when you are going in the right direction, you are going to take time, how much is sometimes out of your control."
Primož Roglič lost time on stage 15, suffering a mechanical, switching to a team-mate's bike and then crashing on the descent. The Slovenian lost 40 seconds to Yates and the other GC contenders on the day, but remains favourite to wear the pink jersey after the third and final time trial in Verona on June 2.
"I think he [Roglič ] had a great ride," White said. "He was on someone else's bike on a super technical descent, which is not a nice place to be. Obviously it's not the same setup as his own, he's under the pump without teammates, chasing his biggest rivals, and to only lose 40 seconds in the end...I think he salvaged the day quite well.
"I think, as I said from the start, when people see a weakness in Roglic, they are going to attack him. He was the strongest guy at the start of the race and he is still going very good. I don't see that as a crack [on stage 15], he had some bad luck, you put anyone else on a new bike 15 kilometres before the final with a technical descent.
"He's done very well, they managed very well what could have been a disaster with a 40 second time loss."
After a slightly disastrous first two weeks in Italy, things are looking up for Simon Yates and Mitchelton-Scott, with Matt White confident they can continue building on the positives they took towards the end of last week: "We are going in the right direction, that's the main thing."
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