On the day that Bradley Wiggins eased up Dartmoor to all but confirm he will win his first Tour of Britain – and make a timely return to form on the eve of the world championships – the optimism that surrounds the longer term future of British cycling was stirred by a dramatic stage victory for Simon Yates.
The 21-year-old is a work in progress on the roads. He is still part of Britain’s Olympic development programme and will accompany Wiggins to Florence next week to race in the under-23 event at the world championships. But yesterday he mixed it impressively with the grown-ups and emerged from a group that as well as Wiggins included Nairo Quintana, the compact Colombian who was runner-up to Chris Froome at this year’s Tour de France and won the King of the Mountains, to be first to the top of Haytor, the first summit finish in the race’s burgeoning history. His victory was noisily greeted by an impressively large and vocal crowd.
It was a remarkable ride from a young man who has all-round talent and he will be strongly fancied to claim the under-23 title next week to round off what has been a remarkable year. Yates, whose twin Adam will ride at the worlds too, is also an accomplished track rider. In February he competed in his first track world championships and earned a first rainbow jersey with an unexpected victory in the points race in Minsk. Then this summer he took two stage wins in the Tour de l’Avenir – the blue ribband event for young road riders. Adam took a podium finish in the race to underline his own ample potential.
Yates placed yesterday's stage success, when he broke away from Team Sky’s David Lopez and the Swiss rider Martin Elmiger deep within the final kilometre to win by two seconds, alongside anything he has achieved in his brief career.
“It’s one of my best victories – to win a stage of my national tour. With the company that was there. Yeah, you can’t get much better,” said the Lancastrian. “I just hoped for a good position as I hit the climb and people just started to fall away. Dan Martin and Quintana started to attack and slowly it started to whittle down. I know I have quite a fast kick but I still didn’t believe it until I looked behind a few metres before the line. I had good legs most of the day. I just made it to the final hill and then went as hard as I could from there. I’ve got the worlds soon so hopefully I can do well there and then turn pro. We’ll see.”
Victory in the 137km stage that took the riders from Sidmouth to Dartmoor was enough to hoist Yates up to third place in the overall standings. With two stages remaining Wiggins leads by 32 seconds from Elmiger. Yates is a minute and six seconds off the lead. Ian Stannard, Wiggins’ Sky team-mate and another bound for Tuscany next week, slipped back to seventh having begun the day in second.
Today’s penultimate stage begins at Epsom Racecourse and ends 150km later in Guildford. It features some early climbs but a flat second half may present Mark Cavendish with another victory chance. Barring disaster there should be little to trouble Wiggins, who yesterday furthered the impression he has given all week that he is back to something approaching his form of 2012. The race concludes in London tomorrow with a 10-lap dart around the capital’s streets taking in the Palace of Westminster and the Tower of London.