Until this year Simon Yates had never worn a Grand Tour leader’s jersey. By mid-september, he’d had 23 days’ experience — that’s 23 times the amount most riders even dare dream of for their own careers.
From May to September he entertained us all as he jousted and skirmished, bobbed and weaved, suffered glory and defeat and finally won his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. It surely won’t be his last.
Well before he started the Spanish race, he’d already established himself as a fan favourite at the Giro. His lengthy tenure in pink never got boring, for he more than did justice to what many describe as the most beautiful of Grand Tours.
His attacking style yielded three wins in Italy — firstly on the huge Gran Sasso d’italia, followed by a perhaps expected strike on the short, steep finish into Osimo on stage nine. Perhaps even more impressive was his 41-second solo win at Sappada. At that point, more than two minutes ahead on GC, it was hard to see past him even with the threat from Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin in the following week’s time trial. But he lost no fans when he did finally collapse SIMON YATES’S GRAND TOUR REPORT CARD 2014: Tour de France, DNF, 6/10: A very solid debut performance. 2015: Tour de France, 89th, 7/10: Numerous top-15 finishes, including 11th at Alpe d’huez. 2016: Vuelta a España, 6th, 9/10: Announces himself as a bona fide contender.
2017: Tour de France, 7th, 8/10: Very consistent ride that nets Yates seventh on GC.
Vuelta a España, 44th, 6/10: Solid ride in support of brother Adam and Esteban Chaves.
2018: Giro d’italia, 21st, 9/10: Yates comes of age with an aggressive, attacking ride, almost wins. Vuelta a España, 1st, 10/10: Finally does what we always knew he would eventually. on the Finestre — we like our winners human, after all.
Now, Yates is a low-key kind of guy and the Vuelta is a low-key kind of race. So when the boy from Bury sneaked into the lead of the Spanish race on stage nine, taking over from FDJ’S Rudy Molard after finishing ninth and 2.49 back on stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), it fell under the radar.
There were no virtuoso stage wins, at least for the moment, and on stage 12 he even gave the jersey away in a tactical retreat after the bunch trailed in more than 11 minutes behind the breakaway.
When Yates reclaimed the jersey with a summit victory at Nava on stage 14, our attention was piqued again as we watched him defend the leader’s jersey all the way to Madrid, taking a trio of top-three stage finishes along the way.
That a British rider who has won his first Grand Tour in such entertaining fashion still doesn’t win our Rider of the Year competition only goes to show how good British fans have had it in 2018.