On Saturday, alarm bells rang for Yates who was fresh in the pink jersey after two days prior on Mount Etna. With the escape already including Lotto’s Tosh Van Der Sande, they could not afford to let the Belgian team ride away with three riders and threaten their control.
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When Hansen and Wellens attacked and rode clear, they organised and chased, but once out of sight, they never could catch them.
“A break went, then I heard over the race radio: ‘Attack Wellens and Hansen,’ ” BMC Racing sports director, Valerio Piva told Cycling Weekly. “They were joining Manuel Senni who had just attacked.
“Then nothing, the radio stopped mentioning Hansen and Wellens. We only hear ‘Senni’ trying to bridge. I just assumed the group pulled back Wellens and Hansen.”
They hadn’t, though. Mitchelton-Scott kept chasing in vain for two riders who weren’t there.
“The breakaway went then Tim wanted to jump across, but it was too far to go alone, so he asked me how I was feeling and said, ‘Yeah, we can give it a go,'” Hansen explained
“We tried to jump across, we got a really good gap, we could almost not see the peloton behind but we heard that it was still 2-40 minutes to the first group. We thought, we are not going to make it.
“We had such a big gap on the group, we thought, ‘Let’s go hide and see what happens.’ We took a sharp left into a caravan parking lot and hid around the corner, then the peloton passed. As soon as it did, we jumped on the back of the line of cars and rejoined the group. Everyone was laughing.
“I said, ‘Tim, let’s go to the front and see their faces when they see us.’ We got up there, Mitchelton-Scott was pulling. They looked forward, looked to us, looked forward and looked to us. They said, ‘Where did you guys come from!?'”
Piva, with early race leader Rohan Dennis in the team, smiled and said, “It’s the sort of thing that we’d do when I was a professional.”
Historic tales of Tour de France or Giro d’Italia riders doing such things exist, but in modern times with higher stress – and constant media coverage – it almost impossible.
“I’d only ever done that before years ago as an amateur,” Hansen said with a grin. “It’s not so easy to do something like this in the WorldTour.”
Some laughed, but not everyone. The team spent energy it would need in the coming mountain days defending Yates’s pink top.
“I’ve done that in local fun races with friends, but never at this level. These guys must be that good that they can play around in WorldTour races. Hats off to them,” Yates’s Canadian team-mate Svein Tuft explained.
“When they went, they went full-gas. At first, we didn’t want that break to get bigger with strong guys like that, but at some point we had to call it off. Then the next thing I know, I looked over in the bunch and Wellens was right next to me. I was just confused.
“I didn’t really laugh, it hurt. Upset? Ah…. Racing is funny, eh?”