MEGEVE, France — Adam Yates came to his second Tour de France without any ambition in the general classification. Three weeks and a spectacular crash later, only two more days in the Alps separate him from a podium finish on the Champs Elysees.
Regarded as one of the most promising riders of his generation, the 23-year-old British rider has exceeded all expectations at the Tour.
Arriving in France, Yates’s main goal was to secure a stage win at cycling’s biggest event. He ended up fighting with the top contenders on a daily basis.
On Thursday, Yates conceded 1 minute, 23 seconds to race leader Chris Froome in the uphill time trial in the ski resort of Megeve. But he managed to keep his third place overall, losing just 13 seconds to his closest rival, fourth-placed Nairo Quintana.
With two treacherous mountain stages left before the largely ceremonial ride to the Champs Elysees on Sunday, Yates holds the white jersey for best young rider and sits 4:16 behind Froome, with a 21-second lead over Quintana.
"Today wasn’t my best performance, but it wasn’t too bad," said the Orica-Bike Exchange rider. "I’m fighting for every second, there are only two more days to go and hopefully I will be on the podium in Paris."
After winning the Tour of Turkey in 2014, and the San Sebastian single-day classic last year, Yates is already being tipped as a future winner of a major tour. The next two days will be crucial for the young rider, who will have to respond to an expected onslaught from rival Richie Porte, whose form has dramatically improved over the last week and lags just 44 seconds behind.
"In my opinion, Richie Porte should really be on the podium, he has shown he is the strongest climber," said Yates.
The young British rider, whose twin brother Simon also rides with Orica-Bike Exchange but is not on the Tour for using an asthma medication without proper authorization, should take some confidence from his recent outings in high mountains. He has not launched any big offensive so far, but showed great composure under pressure to stay with the best climbers.
Yates, who comes from the north of England and speaks quickly but nervously, is laid-back once on his bike. That attitude earned him praise from Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford, who likes "the way he’s carried himself, really relaxed, not fazed at all, doing his thing." Brailsford added that Yates "looks in control for a young guy."
The only time Yates lost control — and crashed — it was not his fault.
The incident happened in the Pyrenees during the seventh stage of the race when the inflatable "flamme rouge" arch marking the final kilometre of each stage collapsed in front of his front wheel. Yates was fortunate enough to escape from the spectacular accident with only a few stitches on his chin.