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Hayter, already a stage winner and the maglia rosa after stage 2, caught and dropped the remnants on the lead group on the Queen stage 3 that included the Mortirolo, Passo del Tonale, and almost 5,000 meters of climbing to win alone at the Santa Caterina Valfurva ski resort.
The two wins put Hayter 4:55 clear of Romain Grégoire in second place on GC.
“It’s been two good days, that’s for sure,” Hayter’s team boss, Axel Merckx, told VeloNews on Tuesday morning ahead of stage 4.
“On the first day that he won he saw an opportunity and went for it. He didn’t know if he’d made a mistake because he wasn’t getting time gaps. He saw the leaders up ahead after the final descent, caught them, dropped them, and that was an impressive ride.”
On stage 3, Hayter had to once again come from behind after FDJ had sent talented 18-year-old climber Lenny Martinez up the road. The Frenchman, who is the son of former mountain biker Miguel Martinez, had roughly two minutes on his chasers ahead of the final climb but crumbled to eventually finish fifth on the stage.
Hayter, on the other hand, maintained his cadence and pace to eliminate the chasers and the fast-fading Martinez.
“On the second stage win Martinez had such a big gap on the last descent that I thought that the stage and overall were gone but Leo and Lennert Van Eetvelt kept working on it and caught Romain Grégoire and then I think the FDJ guys lost it. They just collapsed,” Merckx said.
“They were suffering, with maybe the heat or dehydration. It’s not usual that we do a race with over 5,000 meters of elevation. Martinez was tired and Leo was basically able to keep his composure and maintain the pace that he had throughout the stage.”
Despite the huge lead in the overall standings Merckx and his young riders aren’t taking anything for granted in terms of the status of the maglia rosa. The race is far from over, according to the former Polti and Motorola rider.
“I don’t think that the overall is finished. There are still some tricky stages ahead and it’s only five riders per team. Take Leo out of it and it’s only four guys. It’s really hectic racing so it’s hard to control. We’ve come here for stage wins, we’ve done that, and now we’re going to defend as much as we can. Hopefully, Leo can keep his legs for the remaining stages that are to come.”
Hayter, the 2021 winner of the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, will no doubt have huge interest from several WorldTour teams ahead of next year. The rider only signed for Merckx’s team late in December of 2021 after agreeing to terminate his contract with the DSM development squad.
“His agent came to me in December and asked me if I had a spot. Luckily I did because one of my riders at the time decided not to pursue his career. Ironically Leo had the same size bike and clothing. It was a no-brainer for me and I knew how strong of a rider Leo was. Once he was free from a contract I signed him right away,” Merckx said.
Hayter’s elder brother rides for Ineos Grenadiers and the younger sibling has been linked with an immediate move to the British WorldTour squad at the end of the year. Merckx doesn’t know where his Giro leader will end up in 2023 but he’s predicting a scramble for the 20-year-old’s signature.
“After yesterday who wouldn’t want him? Winning two stages in the Giro, and the way he won them. I think his agent will have a lot of phone calls,” he said.