As far as British cycling is concerned, Simon and Adam Yates are from the wrong side of the Pennines. The twin brothers are proud Bury boys, at a time when Yorkshire has suddenly become the sport’s UK spiritual home. But more significantly, when the Tour de France sets off from Utrecht, Holland, these young men will ride out in the colours of Australia’s Orica GreenEdge.
It is a situation that has not gone unnoticed by the British Team Sky’s talismanic chief Dave Brailsford. During last year’s tour, when Simon was drafted in to the Australian team at the last moment, Brailsford confided in friends that he was one that had got away.
At just 22 years old, the brothers will not be expected to compete for the yellow jersey, but the ambition they and their team have set for themselves is not small, and the terrain on which they will seek to make what they hope might be their first bit of cycling history could hardly be more imposing.
“If the team wins a stage that will be a huge achievement,” says Simon while the tailor and one-time television presenter Jeff Banks genuflects at his feet with measuring tape in hand – he will make their suits for the end-of-tour party, which right now could hardly seem further away.
“There are only 21 tour stages a year, the sprinters take five of them. There’s only a slim chance of winning one. That is our aim. Whether it’s me, my brother, or someone else on the team who wins one, that will be a success for us.”
Adam agrees: “There’s not much point in me going for the general classification, the yellow jersey. If you finish 19th in the Tour, what is it? Who came 19th in the Tour last year?
“If you win a stage in the Tour de France, there’s a lot of prestige to that.”
The brothers are not sprinters, they are climbers. Their dream is arguably the most agonising to achieve in all of sport.
“Once we hit the Pyrenees, my race starts,” says Simon. “That is my chance to get up the road and get a breakaway. Then you’ve got a few days to recover. Then you hit the Alps. My race goes again. Those blocks are where I’ve got a chance. But just to get in the breakaway is a huge task by itself. I don’t think people realise what a huge task it is just to get into the race.”
Last time, Simon was ordered to pull out of the Tour with 16 of the 21 stages complete. This time around, he says: “I expect to finish. Unless I crash, unless something extraordinary happens, I will finish the Tour.
“I was disappointed then, I’m still disappointed now,” he says of last year’s race. “I was only meant to do 12 stages in the first place, that was the agreement. Come stage 12 I managed to make a deal, do a few more days. On stage 14 I had a bit of a breakaway, but then I just carried on to the next rest day, and it was decided I should go home and rest up. The risk is you finish your year off there and then.
“But it means I’m more motivated to finish this year. And it was the right call. I wasn’t in the race any more, I was just making up the numbers in the peloton. I could barely even help my team- mates apart from to go and get bottles. Is it worth carrying on at that stage, just to finish?”
While Adam has not competed in a Grand Tour, he is the reigning Tour of Turkey champion. Simon, the veteran by comparison, says it is he “who should be asking my brother for advice, not the other way around”. Besides, there is nothing that can prepare you for the Tour de France. “It’s impossible to get across just how hard the Grand Tours are. You start tired, and you get even tireder. There is no way to recover. You have rest days but they don’t really do anything.
“After three or four days you’re already knackered. You’re at your limit. But that’s what separates the guys who do and don’t win – the guys who get on with it, who are tired but who just crack on. They are the guys that win.”
The Grand Depart in Utrecht is a sprinters’ start. “I’m not looking forward to the first week,” says Adam. “It’s pretty flat and exposed to crosswinds. I’ll just be there to support the guys, hopefully have no crashes or injuries, and just try to get through it and get to the mountains.”
But the brothers are grateful to have each other for company. “The start will be a special moment,” says Simon. “If you said 10 years ago I’d be starting the Tour with my brother, it would be a dream come true. But once you start racing it’s just the same. Everyone’s tired, everyone’s focused. The biggest difference with racing with my brother is off the bike. When you’re finished, we’ll be joking around the bus, and if we share a room we’ll have some good banter, watch a movie, and it all feels like home.”
A home of sorts, but a long way from Bury, and rather more frightening than the Pennines.Reuse content