Tour de France 2014: Simon Yates makes major breakthrough
Young British rider shows immense promise after keeping pace with Tour favourites
Britain’s Simon Yates may be the youngest rider in the 2014 Tour de France, but the 21-year-old from Bury took a huge step towards future stardom yesterday when he proved to be one of the strongest riders in a day-long break across three major Alpine climbs.
Taking part in a break of more than 155 kilometres, two weeks into one of the hardest, most crash-ridden Tours in recent years, is noteworthy for any rider. And for a first-year professional like Yates, participating in his first Tour de France, and having never raced more than eight days back-to-back, it was exceptional.
The Briton was finally reeled in 5.5km from the finish line in Risoul ski station, halfway into the third and final ascent of the day. Just three of the breakaways in the initial 17-man move remained ahead of Yates by that point, one of whom – Rafal Majka of Poland – went on to win the stage.
After briefly staying in touch with the main group of favourites, Yates fell back to finish 21st on the stage, three minutes and 25 seconds down on the winner. But by that point, after such a hugely promising ride, it barely mattered.
“I feel tired, it was a hard day out and a lot of climbing, but the opportunity was there to try for the win, all credit to Rafa, he was the strongest today and he’s a class act,” Yates said later.
“I like to win, though, so I’ll keep plugging away for the win in the next week or so,” – with the Pyrenees presenting the best chance for the young British climber to make that happen.
Yates was already on the attack on stage eight, when he formed part of a day-long break of five, but he was caught almost as soon as the move reached the foot of the first of three final climbs. On that occasion, the English rider was praised by the day’s stage winner Biel Kadri, as “having an excellent future ahead of him.”
This time, Yates got much further, getting into the 17-man move well before the 34 km ascent of the first climb, the Lautaret, and then tenaciously staying with the breakaway leaders as rider after rider was shelled on the even more daunting Izoard – at 2,360 metres above sea level, the Tour’s ‘ceiling’ or highest point for this year.
Simon Yates proved to be a match for the big guns over the three climbs Yates was finally fifth of the 17 across the top of the climb and as he said, although constantly finding out his limits in this year’s Tour, he views it all part of a longer learning curve. “Next year I can actually look forward to doing a Grand Tour, knowing what’s coming up and having that experience so I know what I’m doing, instead of the weeklong stages I normally do,” he said. “It’s all going into the unknown, I don’t know what I’m going to feel the next day or the one after.”
That he had, prior to talking to the press, been complaining to team staff that he had lacked the legs to win the stage is surely another promising sign of how far Yates feels he can go in the future.
“The hardest part of the day, though, together with the finish, was getting into the breakaway, it was flat out at that point and then in the middle part, it settles down a bit,” he reflected.
“Hopefully I’ll be back one year and hopefully I’ll be competing for the win.”
Following the collapse of their overall ambitions with Richie Porte, Team Sky tried their best, with Britain’s other remaining Tour rider, Geraint Thomas in the same move as Yates. Thomas’ mission was working flat out for team-mate Mikel Nieve, a more talented climber, to give the Spaniard as smooth a ride as possible before the final ascent.
His work done, Thomas was then reeled in some nine kilometres from the line, while Nieve was caught a little later. “We decided this morning we were going to change strategy and fight for stage wins,” Thomas said later, “and I worked hard in the break. It wasn’t that easy to do, but we’ll be back again in the days to come.”
For race leader Vincenzo Nibali, after breaking away some four kilometres from the line, the stage represented yet another blow to his rivals’ steadily diminishing hopes of dislodging the Italian from the yellow jersey.
The winner of Friday’s stage, Nibali could not catch Majka – second on Friday – before the finish. But Nibali’s second place on the climb, and freshly increased four-and-a-half minute margin over closest rival Alejandro Valverde means Nibali’s domination is looking more and more definitive.
“I wanted to increase my overall advantage, I didn’t think I’d be able to catch Majka, he’s a very good climber,” Nibali said.
“It’s not over, tomorrow is a very hard stage because it’s so long and then we’ve got all the Pyrenees, but I’m feeling more and more confident.” And a certain British rider, albeit much further down the overall classification, would be right to feel the same way, too.
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