It was always Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme’s hope for this race that the GC would remain a tight battle until the two biggest mountain stages in the Alps, where cracks would finally begin to show between the main contenders.
The Orica-Scott rider had already been dropped and then battled his way back up to the yellow jersey group following a flurry of attacks on the upper slopes of the Galibier when Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) delivered another stinging attack that split the group apart.
Although Fabio Aru (Astana), Dan Martin (Quick-Step) and Yates’s white jersey rival Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) also failed to match Bardet’s pace, they did manage to distance the Orica rider.
Left to chase down the long descent to the finish with just Dimension Data’s Serge Pauwels for company, Yates lost 90 seconds to Meintjes in the battle to be the best young rider and slumped to the floor exhausted beyond the line.
“I went full gas and I wasn’t strong enough,” Yates said of the stage’s final climb up the Galibier.
“There was quite a lot of wind about and I got tailed off towards the end of it. I really fought to try to stay there because I knew it was a long way to the finish, but I couldn’t give any more.”
Although he dropped from sixth place to seventh behind Martin, Yates still holds an advantage of 2-28 on eighth-placed Meintjes before stage 18 to the summit finish of the Col d’Izoard.
He admitted he’d not only had a tough day, but fully expects another that will be equally taxing.
“We’re pretty far into the Tour now and fatigue is beginning to take a toll on everyone,” Yates explained.
“I think I did very well to limit my losses. In the end, I only lost a minute and a half to Louis in the battle for the white jersey. We’ll just have to see how tomorrow goes.”