A neo-professional’s first season in cycling is all about learning and adapting, a trial and error process in which you either sink or swim.
For Simon Yates 2014 has been a season of lessons learnt but the 22-year-old British rider has passed his debut season with flying colours having raced at the competitive end in several week-long stage races and enjoying a debut start in the Tour de France.
Yates, and his twin brother, Adam, came into the 2014 campaign on the back of stellar final seasons in the espoirs ranks and duly signed two-year deals with Orica-GreenEdge. Both riders made an instant impact with Simon picking up promising results in Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Basque Country, where he finished twelfth overall.
“I started really well in Paris-Nice and the Basque Country and if I’m honest that’s where I think I was going the best. In Paris-Nice I was working for others at the start but towards the end I was getting a few chances of my own and I was up there,” Simon told Cyclingnews after bringing his season to a close at the Tour of Beijing.
“Then I went to the Basque Country and was mixing it with the overall contenders. From what I’ve heard that’s one of the harder races that we do outside of the grand tours.”
The British rider was brought back down to earth with a bump when he crashed out of the Tour of Turkey with a broken collarbone. His brother went on to win the overall but Simon was forced to head home and undergo a period of rest and rehabilitation. In a twist of fate, the collarbone break allowed Yates to find his bearings after a whirlwind first few months, and as he quietly trained in his way back to fitness, his form began to return.
Seventh overall at the Tour of Slovenia in June was followed by a podium finish in the British national road race and the surprise call-up for the Tour de France.
“Because of the collarbone break I at least came into the Tour a little bit fresh. Adam was going really well at the time with his results and on that basis he could have probably gone to the Tour but he’d had a really packed season already with races so with a few circumstances in my favour I ended up going. It was a huge experience for me,” Yates said.
The grandest stage of all
Yates was one of only four British riders to line up in Leeds for the Tour’s Grand Départ, a feat that the Orica rider was forced to put aside as he prepared for the biggest race of his life.
“At the start of the year when I was in Australia with the team and talking about schedules, the Tour de France wasn’t even mentioned. A Grand Tour wasn’t even on the agenda and I was coming home to watch the Tour on the roadside. I was planning where to watch it with my parents, so the call up came as a big shock.”
The team plan was always for the young rider to find his feet in the event and then retire during the second week. During his 15 stages of the Tour, he worked for his teammates, jumped in the occasional break, but most importantly, he soaked up as much information as he possibly could, with the likes of Simon Gerrans and Michael Albasini there to guide him.
“The biggest thing I learnt was where to save yourself in the Grand Tours. In week-long races you’re pretty much full gas every day but for the Grand Tours you can’t burn all your matches in the first couple of days because if you do that you’ll be pretty rough in the second and third week," he said.
“It’s about picking your chances when you can, and trying to win, but also saving your reserves when you need to. So I was in the break on a few stages but between those days I’d either be on bottle duty or I’d just be taking it easy and waiting for the next chance.”
Coming into the season
At the start of the season Yates was keen to show his ability and that he could live with the step up to the WorldTour. He had finished third in the Tour of Britain and 10th in the Tour de l'Avenir during the previous season, picking up six wins along the way.
“Personally I wanted to come into this year and win one race. Any race, whether it was a smaller one-day race or whatever, I wanted the opportunity to go for the win because I didn’t want to forget what it felt like to win. Does that make sense? Some people, if they don’t win for a few times their confidence can get a bit low and you don’t get that feeling back if you’re not there fighting at the end of a race. I’m an ambitious rider so I like to put my hand up and say I want to have a go, but at the same time there was no pressure to get results. It was all on me.”
He may have missed out on a win this season but Yates is determined to carry the experiences of this season into the winter. He will, like last year, split his training between a base in the United Kingdom and one in Australia.
“I don’t think I need to work on too much in the off-season,” he says, before admitting that his style of racing does have one shortcoming that can be improved on.
“Where I need to make up some ground is perhaps around my race knowledge. Things like my positioning in the bunch and perhaps my concentration because at times in races I like to switch off and take it easy. Something could be happening up the road and that’s something to improve on, but it’s not something you can really work on during the off season. The winter I had last year was really good and I’ve no plans to change something that’s not broken.”
The second year
With a year of WorldTour racing under his belt Yates moves into the off-season content but hungry to progress in 2015. His race schedule for next year has to be defined but it’s highly likely that the British rider will compete in another Grand Tour. Whether it’s the Tour, Giro or Vuelta remains to be seen, but Yates' primary aims revolves around nurturing and improving his race craft.
“We had a quick discussion about it a few days ago but nothing is really set in stone at the moment. There’s still a lot of time and there’s no real rush to put things down on paper,” he says.
“I just want to be a bit more consistent than I was this year. The thing is that could have been down to my collarbone break. When you have a period like that, and I didn’t race for two and a half months, it’s a long time to be out during the season. It feels like I need to be more consistent but I just to want to be up there in more races, at the pointy end of things when races are won. If I can do that in more races then I’ll be making progress.”
He and his brother have one year left on their current deals at Orica-GreenEdge. It’s not secret that rival squads are interested in recruiting the pair but the Yates’s have thrived in the Australian ambiance that seeps out of their current squad.
“I don’t think I’d have been doing the Tour if I was anywhere else but on this team,” Yates adds.
“That’s the thing about GreenEdge. You give and you take but everything rotates and everyone has their chance. There’s never this one clear leader for every race so we took around 35 wins this year but they were all spread around within the team. People get their opportunities here and when they come along it means that you’re motivated to try and do your best.”
It means that contract talk will take a back seat with Yates keen to put everything he’s learnt in 2014 into practice next season.
“I’ve another year at the moment and I’m going to concentrate on my racing next year.”