Simon Yates completes the Grand Tour set
He may not be riding for GC, but Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) still made a huge impression on the first stage in the Pyrenees with stage victory from a breakaway.
Having made it abundantly clear that the yellow jersey was not on his radar as early as stage two’s team time trial, when he dropped out of his team train long before the finish line, Yates had lost more than enough time to be allowed up the road in the break.
As the best climber in the break he was easily the favourite for the stage, but had to put in a smart sprint to defeat Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) at the finish.
Following his multiple victories last year at the Giro d’Italia and success in winning the overall classification at the Vuelta a España, Yates now has the full set of stage wins at all three Grand Tours, a fine achievement for a rider who is still only 26-years-old.
With this personal success achieved, we're likely to see him revert to a crucial support role as super-domestique in the mountains for twin brother Adam come the serious GC stages.
Mitchelton-Scott get their tactics right
Halfway up the Hourquette d’Ancizan, the final climb of the stage, it became clear that Mitchelton-Scott were the team to beat today. Their man Matteo Trentin was up the road in pursuit of leader Simon Clarke (EF Education First), while Simon Yates lurked menacingly in a small group chasing behind.
In these two riders, the team boasted both the best sprinter and the best climber still in contention for the stage win.
Despite having Trentin up the road, the team ultimately decided to back Yates, perhaps judging that Trentin would likely be caught and dropped by the superior climbers, and that therefore they’d be better off having Yates ride aggressively and himself distance as many of the other contenders as possible.
By the top of the climb only Gregor Mühlberger was still with Yates, although Pello Bilbao joined them early on the long descent to the finish.
It was still a tricky situation for Yates, who arguably is the weakest sprinter of the three. But, having been informed by his team of how best to tackle the finish, he nailed it, launching his sprint from behind the other two just before a tight final corner, leading them both around it, then making the most of his advantage to hold on for victory.
It was a great day in what has been a great Tour for Mitchelton-Scott, who now boast two stage wins from breakaways following Daryl Impey’s success on Bastille Day.
A GC stalemate
There were no changes at the top of the GC, or even a single attack in the peloton, as all of the yellow jersey contenders opted to conserve energy on this stage with an eye towards the grander tests still to come in the next few days.
Given the long descent to the finish, and the relatively modest nature of the two mountains tackled today, that perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, although we would have appreciated some kind of attack, perhaps from more of an outsider, or one of the contenders to have already lost several minutes.
Still, there was plenty to enjoy throughout the day. The battle for the stage win among the breakaway fluctuated throughout and was absorbing from start to finish, while the Pyrenean landscape provided with the usual stunning views from the television cameras.
And we won't have to wait much longer for the race for the yellow jersey to take off again. In the next two stages - an individual time trial followed by a summit finish at the Tourmalet - there will be nowhere for the favourites to hide.
Mühlberger and Bilbao unlucky to miss out
Pello Bilbao and Gregor Mühlberger might both have been outwitted by Yates in the final sprint, but to finish second and third respectively from a breakaway of more than 40 plus riders still takes some doing.
Mühlberger rode impressively up the Hourquette d’Ancizan to respond to all of Yates’ vicious accelerations, while Bilbao measured his efforts expertly, biding his time before joining the leading duo on the descent to the finish.
Over the last couple of years, Bilbao has proven himself to be both a quality climber and a canny rider from breakaways, having pulled off two stage wins at the Giro earlier this year. Muhlberger is a bit more of an unknown prospect, but is starting to make a name for himself this year with runner-up finishes at both the Criterium du Dauphiné and Volta a Catalunya.
Both riders are clearly on great form, and could have more opportunities later in the race to land a stage victory.
Rohan Dennis goes AWOL
The most bizarre story of the day centred around Rohan Dennis, who abandoned from the race in mysterious circumstances.
Following the news, his Bahrain-Merida posted an alarming tweet that added to the confusion, saying: "Our priority is the welfare of all our riders so will launch an immediate investigation but will not be commenting further until we have established what has happened to Rohan Dennis".
His whereabouts remained unknown for some time, before footage emerged of him at the finish near his team bus.
Something is definitely up, especially considering that tomorrow’s stage, the race’s only individual time trial, would have been his number one goal of the Tour. Be sure to keep an eye on how this story unfolds.
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