Si­mon Yates in­ter­view

Af­ter a year that saw him take home the Tour's white jer­sey and com­plete the Vuelta a Es­paña, Si­mon Yates re­flects on rac­ing, fam­ily and am­bi­tion

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Fol­low­ing in the wheel­tracks of Francesco Moser, Greg Le­mond, Marco Pan­tani and Al­berto Con­ta­dor would be a good enough ex­cuse for a ma­jor blow-out party for most 24-year-olds. Not so for Si­mon Yates, the lat­est pro to win the Tour de France’s white jer­sey, awarded to the race’s best young rider.

“We just had a nice lit­tle get-to­gether with the team and en­joyed the mo­ment. My fam­ily were proud and my mum, typ­i­cally, made a bit of a scene, but I ex­pect that from my mum. It was a good night,” says Yates, which makes us think that “a nice lit­tle get-to­gether” may be closer to the rau­cous all-nighter we were imag­in­ing.

“She’s ob­vi­ously very proud of us both win­ning the white jer­sey and I think it’s quite spe­cial for both of us to have won it, the first two brothers to do so,” he adds, keen to credit his brother's own white jer­sey-win­ning ride in 2016.

Su­san Yates’s level of pride is un­sur­pris­ing. There aren’t many firsts left to claim in the sport and the Yates twins, both of whom ride for Orica-scott, have hoovered up a sig­nif­i­cant one.

What is strik­ing as Yates talks dur­ing the fi­nal week of the Vuelta a Es­paña — his sec­ond Grand Tour of the year, the first time he’s dou­bled up in one sea­son — is that he has a keen un­der­stand­ing that the white jer­sey is merely a step­ping stone to big­ger goals.

The jer­sey it­self doesn’t have a fan­tas­tic record of mark­ing riders out as fu­ture Tour win­ners. Since the com­pe­ti­tion’s in­tro­duc­tion in 1975 only five of the 37 win­ners have gone on to claim a Tour ti­tle — Lau­rent Fignon, Le­mond, Pan­tani, Jan Ull­rich and Andy Sch­leck. Yates is very aware of this: “The white jer­sey is just one step. A lot of the guys who won it are barely heard of again, so I hope I’m not one of those guys and that I can keep im­prov­ing.”

Yates’s words are in­dica­tive of his self-be­lief. When Cy­cling Weekly caught up with him af­ter the Tour’s fi­nal time trial back in July, where he se­cured the white jer­sey, he gave a sim­i­lar hint at that in­ner con­fi­dence.

Orica-scott were in the same ho­tel as Sky and with that team toast­ing their yel­low jer­sey just feet away, it begged the ques­tion of whether Yates would trade his white jer­sey to be a key lieu­tenant for the likes of Chris Froome. The highly dec­o­rated Michał Kwiatkowski had just spent three weeks do­ing that to dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect. Yates an­swers without he­si­ta­tion: “No. White jer­sey ev­ery day. I think the only thing I’d trade it for is the podium. If you were to, hy­po­thet­i­cally, say to me podium and no white jer­sey or fifth and white jer­sey, I’d choose the podium.”

It’s not an un­re­al­is­tic goal. Yates was one of the best-per­form­ing GC riders in the Tour’s open­ing time trial in Düs­sel­dorf, where he lost only 25 sec­onds to even­tual win­ner Froome while oth­ers haem­or­rhaged time; he took the white jer­sey on the Tour’s first sum­mit fin­ish and held it all the way to Paris de­spite the best ef­forts of Louis Mein­t­jes (Uae-emi­rates) in the race’s fi­nal week.

Level-headed

In the Alps that week Yates found him­self dropped by the favourites but paced him­self to manage his losses. It seemed to dis­play a level of ma­tu­rity and level-head­ed­ness that be­lied the fact that this was only his sec­ond se­ri­ous as­sault on a Grand Tour GC con­test. But Yates plays this down when CW asks what was go­ing through his head as he saw his main ri­vals go up the road and was un­able to fol­low. “This hurts re­ally. It’s not just the Tour de France where I race like this, I do it at any other race where I’m not at the best level, I think I’m pretty good at man­ag­ing the losses… You start think­ing 2km to go, 3km to go, you just dig deep and stay with the best guys. Es­pe­cially at al­ti­tude, you can re­ally blow up and lose a lot of time there.”

Not that there aren’t ar­eas for im­prove­ment, and the now 25-yearold ap­pears well aware of his own limitations at this stage. When CW asks about a seem­ingly in­nocu­ous look over his shoul­der dur­ing an at­tack at the Tour, he chas­tises him­self. “I tried not to look be­hind. I have a habit of check­ing be­hind and see­ing what the gap is,” he says.

It was, in part, with the aim of im­prov­ing him­self that Yates took on the Vuelta a Es­paña this year, not nec­es­sar­ily with the in­ten­tion of get­ting a podium spot, but with one eye on the rest of his ca­reer. “The whole idea is that it will ben­e­fit me next sea­son,” he ex­plains ahead of the race’s fi­nal week. “I’ve only done one Grand Tour a year up to now, so I think this can only help me. Even when you do one Grand Tour, you feel the ben­e­fit the next year, so this was the log­i­cal next step. But we won’t know un­til next year how it will work out.”

How­ever, there had been hopes within Orica-scott that the Yates brothers and co-leader Este­ban Chaves would form a three-pronged at­tack in Spain — though no one knew when en­ter­ing the race who would be the best — but hopes of that be­gan to fade in the sec­ond week and by the third week the Yates brothers were fin­ish­ing in the grup­petto as they saved them­selves for fu­ture stages.

But Si­mon did get to race a Grand Tour along­side his brother again, some­thing they’d not done since the Tour in 2015. “It does help, but more off the bike be­cause I do room with him. It’s nice to race to­gether, we’re al­ways jok­ing in the bunch, but it doesn’t make my legs go any faster,” says Si­mon.

De­spite a tough three weeks in Spain, 2017 was Yates’s best pro year to date with stage wins in Paris-nice and the Tour of Ro­mandy, along­side vic­tory at the Gran Premo Miguel In­durain to add to his pal­marès. And with a sec­ond Grand Tour in his legs and a strength­ened Orica-scott squad head­ing into 2018, it seems likely that Mrs Yates will have fur­ther rea­sons to cel­e­brate.

At the Vuelta Orica-scott failed to make an im­pres­sion

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