Yesterday Simon Yates rode the entire Paris-Nice field off his back wheel, took the stage win, and took the yellow jersey with only one day to go before the ‘Race to the Sun’ was done. 24 hours later and instead of taking the top step on the podium, he was relegated to second place behind Marc Solar who, it has to be said, rode an aggressive race after attacking on the third last climb of the day.
So why did he lose? His team let him down.
Now to be fair, it’s not that the entire team skimped on the effort. Matteo Trentin, for one, pulled damn hard on the third and second to last climbs, and fought back between them to make sure that Yates had someone, anyone to support him. Roman Kreuziger, too, was there for longer than most, and Chris Juul Jensen did a fair bit of work to keep Julian Alaphilippe hanging no more than two minutes ahead of the Mitchelton-Scott chasers before the final trio of climbs.
But to leave the leader of the race without teammates for most of the final climbing, and then basically alone for the last two climbs was a demonstration of something very wrong in the Mitchelton-Scott camp. They could have had this one in the bag but…they blew it.
Where, for one, was Esteban Chaves? A guy who was a pre-race favorite for the overall at Paris-Nice ended up over the time limit, and never once appeared in the front of the race. The two other teammates meant to support Yates – Hayman and Edmondson – were nowhere to be seen, and ended up pulling out on the road to Nice. Without support, Yates was left to do everything by himself and, with the time gaps so narrow, he just couldn’t get it done.
That’s not to say that everything about the race went badly for the team. Yates’ stage win yesterday was a ripper, and exactly the sort of form that you hope he’ll continue to carry into the middle of the season. His twin brother, racing in the other week-long stage race in Italy this week, pulled a stage win of his own out of the bag today, a nice weekend of racing for the two brothers.
But you don’t win Grand Tours by having one good rider; you win Grand Tours by having a team that is strong enough to support that good rider until they shoulder the final part of the workload at the pointy end of the race alone. If the team wants to step up and present the GC challenge they have been working towards for the last couple of years in July, then they’ll have to figure out how to get their team to work well and when it counts.
On today’s evidence, there’s still some work to be done.