Briton Simon Yates and Australian team Mitchelton-Scott are on the verge of creating history at La Vuelta a Espana after the 26-year-old finished third on the penultimate and decisive stage in Andorra to once again extend his lead in the Spanish Grand Tour.
With one-minute and 46 seconds separating him and second-placed Enric Mas (QuickStep Floors), just a ceremonial stage in Madrid stands between Yates and his first Grand Tour, and the first Australian men’s team to win a Grand Tour in history.
Mitchelton-Scott held strong on the early climbs of the frantic and very tough 97 kilometre stage in the Andorran mountains. Simon Yates later took the mantle of defending the race lead on his own shoulders, attacking over the penultimate climb and finding help in the form of Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
“Finally. I think it’s still sinking in," said Yates. "I’m incredibly proud, of the team also. They have carried me through this entire three weeks. It’s the first Grand Tour for the team, it’s just unbelievable.”
“Adam was running out of legs on the penultimate climb and I didn’t want to be in a position where I was riding through the valley to the final climb, that could have been the worse situation possible.
“I knew that Lopez and Quintana were up the road and Lopez especially had something to gain so I knew that he would maybe work with me, so as we say, sometimes attack is best form of defence.
“On the last climb I was OK, I was really at my limit and Lopez and Mas they were both incredible in the final and I just tried to ride my own rhythm and that was it. I gave everything that I had and thankfully it was enough."
“I feel much better now that we have finished, it was a really crazy day and fast. Once again, I want to thank the team. Everybody really stepped up, even the big guys who you didn't expect to be there on the climbs. They were just unbelievable, a really incredible day.”
With just one day of racing remaining, normally considered a formality for the rider in the race lead, the prospect of a first Grand Tour is something that Mitchelton-Scott have been pursuing for years, after shifting from a more classics and stage-hunting approach that characterised the early years of the squad.
Team owner Gerry Ryan, the main backer and entrepeneur within Australian cycling, was on hand to take in the proceedings.
"How fantastic is this?," said Ryan. Our first Grand Tour as a team, what great staff. It's been a fantastic effort the last three weeks. Congratulations everyone and thanks to all the fans."