Yates still pinching himself at surprise Tour call

Simon Yates.
Simon Yates.
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The fourth Briton at this year’s Tour de France is so young and unaffected by fame and notoriety that he was driven into Leeds this week to meet up with his team-mates by his mum and dad.

And even then, Simon Yates was able to slip through the bunting and pageantry on display in the city as Yorkshire welcomes the greatest cycling race in the world, relatively unnoticed.

For his inclusion in Orica GreenEdge’s team for the 101st Tour de France took many by surprise, the 21-year-old included.

Even as recently as last Sunday afternoon, when he was riding to a third-place finish at the British road race championships in Wales, he had no clue that he would be riding the Tour de France.

Twenty-four hours later, and the life of this young man from Bury had changed dramatically.

“It was a bit of a surreal experience, just having to come round the corner to the start of a Tour de France,” said Yates, whose twin brother Adam also joined the Australian team at the end of last season.

“Even from the start of the year I wasn’t expecting to do a grand tour, I was thinking of next year and maybe looking at the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta Espana.

“It’s such a big opportunity to be here, especially with the Tour starting in England, you don’t get many chances like this to start a Tour on your home training roads.

“I feel really fresh and raced well at the national championships last week. But I have to admit, I was a bit surprised to get the call-up.”

Orica have shown their faith in a young Briton where other teams have not.

NetApp Endura only had Yorkshire’s Scott Thwaites as a reserve rider for their maiden Tour de France, while Sky’s decision to leave Pete Kennaugh out may not have received as much publicity as the omission of Sir Bradley Wiggins, but is a blow nonetheless to Kennaugh, who defeated Yates at the British championships on Sunday.

Yates, though, is not built for sprinting.

His potential lies as a future grand tour winner, with many people already tipping him as a general classification contender if his development continues at such a rapid rate.

Australian Cadel Evans has been most forthcoming with his praise for a rider who won the youth classification at last year’s Tour of Britain, but Yates was trying to remain grounded yesterday as he fulfilled one of his first duties as a Tour de France rider –meeting the media.

“I thank Cadel for his kind words but it’s a bit different racing a one-week race to a three-week race,” he said, after Evans praised the young Lancastrian for his performance at the Tour of Pays Basque.

“I’ve never ridden a three-week race before. The longest I’ve done so far is eight days so once I get beyond that I’ll just take it day by day.

“There’s still a long way to go so hopefully I just keep developing the way I am.

“Riding your first grand tour is a big experience and hopefully that will bring me on a bit, riding the hardest race of the year.

“There’s no pressure on me to finish, I just want to help Simon Gerrans (team leader) nick a few stages.

“I’ve got no personal ambitions to do well, I’m just here to help the team.”

Yates gets his first chance to prove his worth tomorrow when the second stage from York to Sheffield passes through some of the roads near Holme Moss that he trains on regularly.

“I know the roads, they’re all my local training roads on stage two,” laughed Yates.

“Maybe not on the main roads, but I know all the climbs. I’m usually out with my brother in a really small training group.

“I’ve never actually raced on those roads before but hopefully I can pass a bit of knowledge on to the rest of the team. I just hope I don’t forget where I am and turn off and head for home!

“Simon Gerrans has a huge opportunity tomorrow to win that stage and if he’s up there on the first day he could maybe take the yellow jersey on Sunday.”

Despite the late call-up, Yates says he feels fresh and raring to go.

He broke his collar bone at the Tour of Turkey at the end of April, an injury he now reflects on as a blessing in disguise as it gave him a chance to grab a mid-season break.

“Ever since then I’ve been training hard and really with the aim to come back do well at the Tour of Poland,” added Yates,

“So this now is a bonus. It’s a dream of any rider to compete at the Tour de France.”

Given his age, Yates’s heroes are some of the men he will be lining up against in Leeds today, most notably two-time winner and 2014 yellow jersey candidate Alberto Contador.

Yates said: “I’ve got a lot of favourite riders but I’ve only been following this sport a few years.

“The Tour de France memory that really sticks out for me is when Contador attacked Michael Rasmussen. I can’t remember the year or the mountain but he was really going at it and it’s that explosive style of racing that is the type of rider I want to develop into.”

He has the chance over the next three weeks to continue that development as he embarks on a maiden Tour de France campaign that has come quicker than even he expected.