Vuelta vic­tor

Si­mon Yates all but seals unique Bri­tish Grand Tour tre­ble

The Observer - Sport - - Front Page -

Si­mon Yates stepped from his team bus in Es­caldes- En­gor­dany yester day lunchtime, be­fore the penul­ti­mate and de­ci­sive stage of the Vuelta a Es­paña, greeted his girl­friend and then gave the an­swers he has been giv­ing for the nine days he has had the leader’s red jer­sey.

He was as un­der­stated as al­ways, say­ing that he was fo­cused only on the stage at hand, that his team had pre­pared for all pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios, and that he would n ot start think­ing of vic­tory in Madrid to­mor­row un­til the sum­mit of the Coll de la Gal­lina .

Three fre­netic hours later , Yates crossed the line third, be­hind En­ric Mas and Miguel Án­gel L ópez , hav­ing done enough to en­sure him­self of vic­tory . It will also mean a Bri­tish clean sweep of the three Grand Tours with dif­fer­ent rid­ers, af­ter Chris Froome’s win at the Giro d’Italia and Geraint Thomas’s at the Tour de France . No coun­try has ever achieved such a feat.

“This morn­ing was the fi rst day I was re­ally, re­ally ner­vous,” said Yates at the fi nish. “We knew it was go­ing to be a crazy day. You don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, how the legs will re­spond, but thank­fully the legs were good and the team were un­be­liev­able, even the big guys were there and Adam [ Yates’s twin brother] did an amaz­ing job in the fi­nal .”

Be­fore the stage Yates had ne­glected to men­tion his nerves or the fact that at 5am there had been a com­mo­tion out­side his ho­tel that had wo­ken many of the rid­ers and staff on his Aus­tralian team. The real dis­rup­tors, he knew, would be Mo­vis­tar and As­tana, the two teams with the least to lose.

In the end Yates coped with the as­sault that came, ini­tially, from Nairo Quin­tana, the Colom­bian win­ner of this race in 2016 . Then it was the turn of an­other Colom­bian, L ópez, known as “Su­per­man” af­ter an in­ci­dent when he wres­tled his stolen bike back from the thieves.

Adam Yates helped keep it un­der con­trol, reel­ing L ópez back in, and proved a strong ally to his twin brother. Adam went un­no­ticed for the first two weeks of the race –“I spent nine days chill­ing at the back,” he said two days ago – which was al­ways the plan, keep­ing him for these fi­nal few days.

Quin­tana had tried. L ópez had

tried. The only thing left was for them to com­bine forces. As they dis­ap­peared up the road Yates could af­ford to stay calm and once again set his brother to the task of set­ting the pace. And then, as on Fri­day, he at­tacked, bridg­ing to the Colom­bians and En­ric Mas on the penul­ti­mate climb be­fore, on the fi nal in­cline to the sum­mit, he let Mas and L ópez go to fi ght it out for the stage.

Yates paid trib­ute to his brother’s sup­port, while Adam, on cross­ing the line, said: “We knew it was go­ing to be a hard day. When it’s the last day there’s no hold­ing back . We con­trolled it as well as we could, but the last two climbs I was re­ally hurt­ing.

“The fi rst thing I’ll say to [ Si­mon] is thank him for at­tack­ing when he did be­cause I was on my last legs.”

In Madrid to­day he and Mitchel­tonS­cott will cel­e­brate their fi rst ever Grand Tour win. “As a team we rode real well,” said Adam. “The strat­egy of hold­ing me back and sav­ing me for this last cru­cial week – it worked pretty well, didn’t it ?”

Dave Brails­ford, the Team Sky prin­ci­pal, toasted Yates’s vic­tory but must have won­dered at what might have been. Yates came through the Bri­tish acad­emy that Brails­ford es­tab­lished but chose a dif­fer­ent path when he turned pro­fes­sional – mainly, it seems, be­cause while Team Sky were keen on sign­ing him, they were n ot so keen on his brother . Mitchel­ton wanted both.

With the Yates twins en­joy­ing suc­cess from the mo­ment they turned pro­fes­sional, Brails­ford ex­pressed a strong de­sire to “bring them home” to Team Sky. But it has never looked like hap­pen­ing, not least be­cause at the Aus­tralian team they have found them­selves part of a project that has the ex­press pur­pose of supporting them. Brails­ford ap­pears to have given up on sign­ing ei­ther , fo­cus­ing in­stead on ty­ing up the young Colom­bian Egan Ber­nal on the long­est and per­haps most lu­cra­tive con­tract in the sport’s history – fi ve years and ap­par­ently worth £ 12m.

But the third Grand Tour of the sea­son has been all about Si­mon Yates who, at 26, can look for­ward to many years of chal­leng­ing for vic­tory in Italy, France and Spain. The usual path­way would be from Vuelta to Giro or Tour. But the Yates twins have al­ready proved – as Brails­ford knows – that they follow their own path.

Si­mon Yates takes on the fi nal stretch of the 97km stage and set up his team’s fi rst Grand Tour win

ANDER GILLENEA/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES

Si­mon Yates cel­e­brates on the podium af­ter do­ing bat­tle with En­ric Mas and Miguel Án­gel López

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