Twelve up for an unsung hero

Sean Hargrave talks to Sean Yates, carrying British hopes in the Tour de France
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WHEN Chris Boardman crashed out of the Tour de France 90 seconds into the prologue last Saturday, British interest was left to focus on a man who said the 1994 Tour was his last.

Instead, the 35-year-old Sean Yates is back for a 12th examination of his strength, endurance and willpower. Last year's Tour was one of the most memorable for Yates, who became only the third Briton to wear the race leader's yellow jersey and also attracted media attention when the race came to a halt as it passed through his home village of Forest Row, in Sussex, so he could hug his wife and son, a moment he remembers as "one of the best experiences of my life".

Unlike Boardman, who has yet to complete a Tour (last year, in his first, he retired before the mountains, as his team had planned), Yates has finished nine (with a stage win, in 1988, to his name), yet he remains comparatively unsung. He has been riding well this year, though, and was part of the Motorola team last month which won the most important race in the American calendar, the Tour Du Pont.

Yates crashed earlier in the week, dropping down the standings as a result, and he is also struggling with a recurrence of a chronic condition which is causing him severe pain. "I've got a rotated pelvis, which means one leg goes longer than the other when I pedal," he said. "I've had the problem for the past three years. Sometimes it's fine, other times it can play up a lot. It's not the sort of thing which is going to put me out, though. It just means I need a chiropractor to correct the twisting in the spine it causes."

For Yates this recurrence could not have come at a worse time, because this week moves on from the flatter stages he prefers to the gruelling climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees, including, on Wednesday, L'Alpe D'Huez, the most daunting climb of all.

"It's these mountain stages which really hurt," he said. "I'll try to stay in close behind somebody at the front of the race group so I'm in their slipstream. The problem is there's another 90-odd riders all wanting to do the same."