Tour de France 2014: And then there was one - Simon Yates pulls out of the Tour to leave Geraint Thomas as the only British hope - so where did it all go so wrong?
With Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome already back home, Yates was pulled by his Orica GreenEdge team after an impressive Tour debut, but it highlights a much bigger problem
They started in Yorkshire just over two weeks ago with four.
Now the number of Britons in the 2014 Tour de France has dwindled to just one, following the withdrawal of Simon Yates ahead of a series of tough Pyrenean stages.
Yates had battled through the Tour’s first 15 stages with a maturity and strength that belied his 21 years. But wary of the prospect of burning their young charge out, Yates’ Australian team Orica GreenEdge took the decision to quietly remove him from the race.
"I’m pretty tired," said Yates prior to Sunday’s Stage 15 to Nîmes. "Sunday was a really big effort and I’m knackered at the minute."
The Bury-born climber had been a prominent figure in two of this Tour’s ultimately unsuccessful mountain breakaways.
On Stage 8 he was part of a five-man group that withheld the peloton’s clutches for over 100 kilometres, only to be snared on the final run to the line. Then, on Saturday’s Stage 14 slog to the Alpine summit of Risoul he came within bike lengths of glory once again before being swallowed by a group of charging yellow jersey contenders.
“He’s class,” said Orica sporting director Matt White of Yates following his mammoth effort on Stage 8. “The kid is class. It was the first opportunity we gave to Simon in the Tour de France and he took it with two hands.”
But the lingering sentiment left hanging in the Provencale air in the stream of Yates’ departure is one of disappointment.
This race was billed as a ‘British’ Tour de France. The crowds turned out in their thousands to line the lanes of Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire and Essex, welcoming the Tour with a fervour frenzied enough to impress no less a figure than Tour director Christian Prudhomme.
Now there is just a single British representative remaining: Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who continues to labour fruitlessly for the struggling Richie Porte.
Richie Porte (right) has taken over as Sky leader from Chris Froome The Tour de Britain has become a Tour sans Interest for Anglo hopes. Much of that is down to sheer bad fortune – Mark Cavendish’s race-ending crash in Harrogate was foreseeable yet unavoidable, whilst Chris Froome’s injuries had clearly been lingering for longer than many suspected.
Yates, meanwhile, is so wet behind his helmeted ears that it would be ludicrous to voice any opprobrium in his direction. He has performed exceptionally to make it this far, particularly given that he was only an eleventh-hour replacement for Daryl Impey.
Yet Sky’s performance so far must call into question the decision of Sir Dave Brailsford to leave many of his most talented young British tyros at home.
A shaken Chris Froome is helped to his feet after his second fall Peter Kennaugh, the Isle of Man rider who performed so luminously in support of Chris Froome during the 2013 Tour was omitted from this year’s nine-man Sky squad – and has responded by winning the prestigious, and mightily difficult Tour of Austria.
At the opposite end of the age scale, Sir Bradley Wiggins surely still has enough diesel remaining in his engine to have filled the breach left by Froome’s forced abandonment – the same breach that the Tasmanian Porte has left gaping in the wind.
These are all what-ifs, all possibilities that rely on speculation and conjecture. But there is one certainty. Yates’ brave departure has left British involvement in this Tour hanging by a single thread. Geraint Thomas may be durable – but his presence symbolises a sudden frailty at the heart of British road cycling.
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