For a much-delayed Tour de France that offered a few fans, as little coronavirus as possible and none of the famous British riders who have won it recently, the first week of this three-week adventure had a familiar feel. A British bloke in yellow.
“He had some kind of parasite – he was on the floor,” said his MItchelton-Scott team of an illness Yates picked up a few weeks before cycling’s biggest race.
“There was a lot of vomiting – we think from fountain water he drank.
“It knocked him for six – he had 10 days completely off the bike, then two or three weeks when he was certainly on restricted training. And that was right at the time when we are going hard on the training.”
But thanks to 28-year-old’s efforts it was only the third time his Australian team have ever worn the yellow jersey in their eight-year history.
It’s a proud moment for Yates, too, who took the yellow jersey on Wednesday’s stage five and held on to it brilliantly on the first day in the Pyrenees – Saturday’s furious descent to Loudenvielle over the Col de Peyresourde – as his team-mates dropped away one by one.
It’s been an impressive opening week, given Mitchelton-Scott did not bring a team to France for lasting in the high mountains. Now they just have to do what they came for with Yates – win a stage.
Although highly regarded in the sport, Bury-born Yates has somewhat surprisingly never won a Grand Tour stage. His twin brother, Simon, who also rides for Michelton-Scott has won seven of them and the overall Vuelta a Espana in 2018.
This year Simon is going for the Giro d’Italia against Geraint Thomas of Ineos.
And, no, Adam is not OK with his brother’s more decorated career to date. There is “some banter” over it, says the team.
There will be crowds? Or there won’t be crowds? No one really seemed to be sure before the race.
Tour organisers ASO welcomed “some”, and vowed there would be screening. And, so far, it appears not to have caused the whole race to be canned two weeks before getting to Paris on 20 September.
It was exciting to see the traditional throngs of fancy dress-clad supporters passionately waving flags and shouting into the faces of riders on the Col de Peyresourde on Saturday on the first truly punishing test of the race so far. But the facemasks appear to be dropping and the fans are edging ever closer to their heroes.
So what we already knew has happened: you can’t enforce social distancing at the Tour de France.
Plenty are still wary the race could implode. German sprinter Andre Griepel from Froome’s new team for next year, Israel Start Up Nation, asked fans to take a step back a bit.
Star of the week has to go to Belgium’s Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma – the Dutch team who have as much strength and firepower as Ineos this year.
Van Aert has had an amazing opening week, he has helped in the hills and he fooled all the sprinters by storming past them on stage five into Privas, before repeating the feat again on stage seven at Lavaur after fighting all day for his team in heavy crosswinds.
This comes after he won one of the most prestigious ‘monument’ one-day races in the sport – the Milan-San Remo – and the Strade Bianche during August.
How did he celebrate? By announcing he and his wife are expecting a baby boy in January. That is a far cry from how he acknowledged last year’s victories when he “bought himself and his wife goats,” say the team.
A tribute to Portal
It hasn’t been an easy start to the Tour for the previously dominant Ineos Grenadiers.
They nearly lost one of their best domestiques in Pavel Sivakov, after he crashed twice during the treacherous opening stage in Nice, while second protected rider Richard Carapaz lost two minutes during stage seven. But last year’s winner Egan Bernal is growing into this race, however, and now looks in good shape.
But so does Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma. The Slovenian took the yellow jersey on stage nine and is 21 seconds ahead of second-placed Bernal.
Before Sunday’s ninth stage in Pau, Ineos paid tribute to their sporting director Nico Portal, who died of a heart attack in March. Portal, a local to the French city, was an integral part of the success of Sky/Ineos from the team’s beginnings in 2009.