Sean Yates has said he still believes Lance Armstrong was a phenomenal athlete, despite the Texan's confession to doping, describing him as "the biggest engine ever to get on a bike, apart from maybe Chris Froome."
The Briton made the comments to the Press Association news agency as an extract of his book called 'It's all about the bike' was published in the Times newspaper. Yates was a good friend and long-standing teammate with Armstrong in the nineties, when the two were at the Motorola team. Yates became a directeur sportif when he retired and directed Armstrong when the Texan came his comeback with the Astana team in 2009.
"I still believe he [Armstrong] is a phenomenal athlete and still the biggest engine ever to get on a bike, apart from maybe Chris Froome," Yates told PA.
Asked if Armstrong raced clean in 2009, he said: "I don't know. He came out and said he did whatever. I believe he was [clean] and certainly his performances were nothing out of this world."
Leaving Team Sky
Yates left the world of professional cycling last autumn after directing Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome to first and second at the Tour de France. He had become a key figure at Team Sky but walked away just a few months afterwards.
At the time USADA published its explosive Reasoned Decision in the Lance Armstrong case, with many of his former teammates implicated. Team Sky was trying to introduce its zero tolerance policy and many people believed Yates left because of this reason.
Speaking to The Times, who published an extract of his book, Yates reveals in his book how the Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford struggled to defend Yates's position on the team against the insinuations. Combined with health issues - Yates has had two strokes and a pacemaker fitted - it was enough to convince him to walk away from one of the best team in professional cycling.
"Initially I was pretty upset. In hindsight it was the perfect scenario, the way things have panned out since," he said.
Yates now coaches riders three days a week and is spending more time with his children.
The Wiggins-Froome spat
Yates also confirms that Bradley Wiggins was close to quitting the 2012 Tour de France after tension with teammate Froome during the race, sending a text message saying, “I think it would be better for everyone if I went home.”
Yates indicates that Froome disregarded an agreed race strategy and attacked in the finale of stage to Peyragudes while Wiggins was struggling.
Wiggins has already talked about the clash in his own autobiography but Yates suggests that the enigmatic Briton was serious but was persuaded to stay in the race and go on to triumph in Paris by Yates and Brailsford.
Not impressed with the Team Sky management
Yates reveals that he is not impressed with Team Sky’s current management and that the only member of the team set-up he is still close to is sports director Nicolas Portal.
"To be brutally honest, there is no one at Sky who knows much about bike riding."
"In general, this year especially, the guys running the team don’t know enough about bike-riding and a lot of the riders went into the Tour overtired. They are made to race too much, too long, too hard."
Yates revealed he has had offers to join other teams but seems happy to have stepped away and because he believes Chris Froome will dominate the sport for years to come.
"It was a big team, big money," he revealed. "But, in my opinion, Chris Froome is too good for anyone to unsettle him. If there were cracks in his armour, that would be more motivating."