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It looked scripted. Like a video game. Like Mitchelton-Scott director Matt White sat in his team car with a remote control, pushing buttons to put Esteban Chaves in the breakaway and to bring Jack Haig with him. Another button to leave Simon Yates in the peloton, protected by the bulk of Svein Tuft and the climbing legs of Mikel Nieve. A third to send Chaves away from his breakaway companions on Etna’s slopes. The last, a big red button with a little flip-off cover on it, to send Yates away from the world’s best climbers and into the maglia rosa.
But bike racing laughs at scripts. Radios aren’t remote controls. Mitchelton-Scott’s perfect day was the result of quick thinking and strong legs, equal parts tactics and the simple fact that the team had the strongest riders, not in one group, but two. There were two races on Etna, and the team won both of them.
“Our tactic today isn’t what our sports director told us to do this morning,” Yates said, standing in his new pink leader’s jersey at the top of Etna, beaming. “I don’t really know how, but Esteban was in the front there with a big group. We could sit back and I could sit in the wheels and save some energy. In the end, it worked out perfectly.”
The team finished first and second on the day and now sits first and third overall. It has a pink jersey on Yates’ shoulders and a KOM jersey on Chaves’ and an image of two matching black and yellow kits beneath a bright pink Giro d’Italia finish line, not a single other rider in the frame.
In hindsight, the setup was brilliant. Chaves and Haig worked their way into the day’s big breakaway, along with a couple dozen riders and a few super domestiques for GC contenders. “We really cooperated quite well, actually, for such big breakaway,” Haig said. He put in big pulls. Chaves contributed as well. But BMC kept them on a short leash. They entered the base of Etna with a scant two-minute lead.
Attacks set off from the breakaway while Chaves watched and waited. With 5.5 km to go, he used one of the climb’s steep pitches to find separation, distancing Sergio Henao and other strong climbers.
Behind, Domenico Pozzovivo and George Bennett traded barbs while Chris Froome opened and closed a string of gaps. Tom Dumoulin looked comfortable, and then uncomfortable, and then comfortable again. Yates simply followed. Waiting. With Chaves alone, less than 30 seconds up the road, he had no obligation to chase or pull.
The red kite was in view when Yates swung slowly over to the right side of the road, watching over his left shoulder. The rest looked at each other. It wasn’t an attack, not at first. He inched slowly ahead, the gap silently stretched to a few meters. Then he punched it.
“I looked across the road and everyone was looking at each other, so I took the chance and I got across,” Yates said.
Yates flew across the gap, closing on Chaves quickly. He caught his teammate. “I said, ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’ I said, ‘Come on mate.’ There wasn’t much talking,” Yates said. He said, too, that the stage win was Chaves’. “He’d been up the road all day so I think he deserved it.” After an entire day in the break, the Colombian just had to hold on.
The two crossed the line together. Yates put his arms up, Chaves crossed himself then did the same.
“It’s a special feeling and special to do it with this guy,” Yates said. “We’ve kind of grown up together and this is the final result.”
“It’s like a dream,” Chaves said, minutes later. A perfect day. “We’ll keep on dreaming.”
Behind the scenes of that “perfect day” with Mitchelton-Scott: