Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) showed weakness for the first time at the 2018 Giro d'Italia on Thursday.. Deep into Piedmont, at the Prato Nevoso ski station, the pink jersey drifted after attacks by Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Maximilian Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors) won the stage from an escape group while around two kilometres back down the 13.9-kilometre final climb, Team Sky's Chris Froome attacked to follow an earlier move by team-mate Wout Poels.
Yates suffered and was unable to respond. Dumoulin, Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), and Froome – second, third, and fourth overall – put 28 seconds into Yates.
"I'm not worried. I'm not worried," Yates said, after the stage and with two big mountain days left to defend his jersey before the final flat day in Rome on Sunday.
"Tomorrow suits me better. We'll see what the other teams do. Tomorrow should suit me better. Today was one big massive effort. We lost a bit of time.
"Today is very different to the next few days – today was one big effort in the final, and tomorrow has many passes, and longer climbs suit me much more. I am much more confident about tomorrow and the next day than I was about today."
Watch: Giro d'Italia stage 18 highlights
Stage 19 finishes at Jafferau, but climbs the Colle delle Finestre and Sestriere first. Stage 20 presents serious difficulties too, finishing at the Cervinia ski station after two category one climbs.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, the 2017 race winner, is now only 28 seconds behind the pink jersey. Froome sits fourth at 3-22 minutes.
"Will I crack? Good question. I don't know. I hope not," Yates continued. "For sure today was not a super day for me, as in the parcours. The next few days suit me much more.
"Everyone is expecting Tom to lose time to me every climb because he is a time trialist. But he is a classy rider. I did not have the legs to follow."
Yates had Froome's former helper Mikel Nieve pacing him to the line in the last kilometre. He has been in the lead for 13 days, since Mount Etna but now the cracks are beginning to show in his pink jersey defence.
"After I couldn't close the gap. I was really tired and I couldn't respond to the attacks, that's OK. Froome is still a long way down - I was watching Dumoulin," added Yates.
"I feel really good. I was only bad for one kilometre, so that's OK. I am still in the lead, I'm still in front. For me that's OK.
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