Yates steps out of Sky shadows to reign in Spain

After many years of promise, Yates secures first grand tour victory having taken a different path from Team Sky's big-budget approach

Photo: Getty Images

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MADRID, Spain (AFP) — Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) stepped out of the shadows of British cycling giants Sky on Sunday to secure his maiden grand tour triumph at the Vuelta a España.

Yates, a former track racer whose road racing talents took him to the brink of victory in this year’s Giro d’Italia, all but wrapped up overall victory on Saturday after yet another strong finish on the final mountain stage in Andorra.

After a largely processional final stage to Madrid on Sunday was claimed by Elia Viviani in a bunch sprint, the 26-year-old Englishman triumphed with a winning time of 82:05:58sec, Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) finishing second overall at 1:46 and Miguel Angel López (Astana) completing the podium.

It was Yates’s first victory in a three-week race and comes months after the stinging disappointment of losing the Giro d’Italia, having controlled the race for much of the opening two weeks last May.

On that occasion, Sky leader Chris Froome capitalized on Yates’s collapse in the mountains to secure the race’s pink jersey and seal his third consecutive grand tour after winning the Tour de France and Vuelta in 2017.

Froome’s grand tour-winning streak came to an end in July, when teammate Geraint Thomas, who also honed his skills on the track, upset the Kenyan-born Briton to triumph at the Tour de France.

Yates’s win on Sunday meant British riders have dominated all three grand tours in 2018. He also took Britain’s impressive streak of consecutive Grand Tour victories to five; although it won’t be lost on British cycling aficionados that it was the first British win outside of Team Sky.

Thanks to their multi-million pound budget and ability to attract the best cyclists for specific roles and races, Sky are considered the ‘Real Madrid’ of the professional peloton.

Sky, who formed on the back of the success enjoyed by Britain’s all-conquering world and Olympic track squad, would be forgiven for ignoring Yates’ obvious talents.

Yates was only 17 years old when Sky formed in 2009 with the ambition to “win the Tour de France, clean, with a British rider within five years.”

While Bradley Wiggins was on route to achieving that objective within three years, in 2012, Yates was a budding track rider whose efforts earned him a place on British Cycling’s Olympic Programme.

Yates, Froome’s teammate at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, won his first world title on the track three years later, in the points race.

The same year, Yates offered a glimpse of his road racing instincts, too. Competing for the Great Britain national squad at the Tour de l’Avenir — considered a ‘mini Tour de France’ for riders aged under-25 — Yates won stage five, ahead of his twin brother Adam, who also rides for Mitchelton-Scott.

Yates made sure it was no fluke by winning the next day’s stage, on his way to a 10th place finish overall. Those successes, ironically, signaled Yates’ potential as a grand tour winner well ahead of Froome, and Thomas.

At the Tour of Britain later that season, Yates took what was his biggest career win when he sprinted clear of a select group of strong climbers which included Wiggins and Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to claim victory on stage six.

With spaces on Team Sky at a premium, Yates joined the Orica-GreenEdge outfit in 2014 — a move that has indirectly led to his most recent successes.

Former Orica sporting director Matt White holds the position at Yates’ current team Mitchelton-Scott, and has seen the slightly-built Englishman build an impressive portfolio of results in the seasons since.

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