The Yates brothers, the most vaunted pair of young British riders since Mark Cavendish a decade ago, are not afraid of straying far from home.
Even though the twins still live at mom and dad’s house in Manchester, they soon will be embarking on their professional careers Down Under.
They’re fast, they’re British, but the 21-year-olds are turning pro with Orica-GreenEdge. That’s Aussie for bike racing, mate, yet for British fans, it’s almost heresy.
For the fast and talented Adam and Simon Yates, the move made perfect sense.
“What the development program with Orica could offer us was the perfect plan,” Simon explained. “It was nothing to do with money. Sky offered me the same. The pathway offered at Orica was simply better.”
Sky is the natural extension of the British cycling program, where Simon has nurtured his talent over the past several years, yet for the highly touted Yates brothers to go race for Orica says a lot about their ambitions and maturity.
At Sky, the Yates brothers would be under a lot more pressure right from the gun, being young British riders on the top British ProTeam.
At Orica, they can find their racing legs, and the Aussie media won’t be paying much attention to a pair of gangly Brits.
And more importantly, the Yates brothers see more opportunities at Orica, which has yet to build up a GC program for the grand tours. The team takes an aggressive, opportunistic approach to every race it starts. At Sky, the team is focusing intently on winning its third consecutive yellow jersey.
“There are so many good riders at Sky, so it seems that young riders kind of get stalled there because of the hierarchy of Sky,” Simon explained. “They’re set up for their leaders, so it’s hard for a young rider to get established. It was best for me to sort of break out, and try something new. I do not want to get caught up in that web.”
That’s a mature attitude for a kid who is barely old enough to buy a beer in the United States. Yet that confidence also underscores what many believe is already there; a rider with a head, and legs, for racing.
On track via track
Like many eventual pro riders, it was thanks to dad that the brothers got their first touch with cycling. Their father was a keen runner, but an injury put him on the bike. Before long, dad was getting into racing, and he was dragging along his sons.
“My dad went to watch his friends on the track, and we just tagged along. It looked like good fun. We got a session booked on the track, and we haven’t looked back since,” Simon told VeloNews in a telephone interview. “I just love racing my bike. There’s nothing like the speed and adrenaline you get from racing on track.”
Growing up within spitting distance of the legendary Manchester track certainly helped. The brothers were only 10, but they were already starting to race.
When Simon was 14, he got tapped by the powerful British cycling federation’s youth development program. That put him on a trajectory that allowed him to compete internationally. His brother, however, wasn’t so lucky.
“Adam didn’t get on the development program. He was sort of told that he was not good enough,” Simon recounted. “So he raced for three years in France, joining the FDJ development program. He showed everyone they were wrong.”
Adam certainly did, confirmed when the Yates brother lit up the Tour de l’Avenir this summer.
Adam and Simon were both starting to race for the win. Simon had a bad day in the Alps, and lost all chances for victory.
Adam, however, hung in there, eventually finishing second to winner Ruben Fernandez of Spain.
“I had a bad day on the Madeleine and lost five minutes to the guy who won,” Simon explained. “The GC was out the door, but I won two stages and Adam was second overall. It worked out perfectly.”
Racing together consistently for the first time in three years, the Yates brothers lit up the remainder of the season. After Avenir, they rode with the British national team at the Tour of Britain in August, where Simon won a stage and rode to third overall.
He was bumping shoulders with the big boys, sharing the podium with British national hero Bradley Wiggins.
“Racing with the national team, to be there with our national hero on the podium, well, it couldn’t get much better than that,” Simon said. “I don’t know Wiggins, but I’ve seen him here and there. He’s a huge motivation for all the young riders.”
The Orica connection
Those strong rides over the summer got the ball rolling toward a pro contract. Simon’s agent, Andrew McQuaid, put out the feelers. Orica was very interested.
“We both had a good Avenir, and we wanted to race together on the same team. We started to talk to Orica around then,” Simon said. “I like what we heard from Orica. If I am not racing, then I am not developing. We were told we’d get to race a lot at Orica.”
Over the past three years, Simon was part of the British program, while Adam sought his fortunes in the amateur scene in France. Now their professional future is on the same track with Orica.
The brothers will fit in perfectly with Orica’s style of racing, yet they won’t have the pressure that would come with starting out with Sky.
“You look at the last couple of races of the season, and you can see how much better I went compared to how I went without Adam. We raced together at Avenir and the Tour of Britain, and we both had our best results ever in those events,” Simon said. “It was a no-brainer. It made a lot of sense to go together to Orica.”
Focusing on the road
The future for the brothers remains firmly on pavement. Despite a world title in 2013 in the points race, Simon said he’s not counting on racing in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro unless it’s on the road.
With the Olympic track program reduced to five events for the men, Yates’ favored points race and Madison are no longer on the docket. Even the multi-discipline omnium holds little value for Yates.
“I still love racing the track, but with the way events are heading for the Olympics, it would be a tall order to get on the team,” Simon said. “I will still race some track, but it’s hard to imagine making the Olympics.”
That’s especially true with Wiggins making noises about heading back to the boards in 2016 for a final hurrah to his career.
Feeling the pressure
Simon admitted that the brothers are already starting to feel the pressure to perform. And that was one reason why they might have titled toward signing with Orica instead of Sky.
After lighting up the Avenir, many inside the British press pack tipped the brothers to win the under-23 world title. Things went awash, literally, when a winning breakaway pulled clear, and the brothers had to settle for riding in with the front chase group in soggy Florence.
That was their first taste of what awaits them in the pressure-cooker pro ranks.
“I felt a bit of that at the worlds this year. I had just won two stages at Avenir and was third overall at the Tour of Britain. Everyone thought it was going to be easy,” Simon said. “I felt a bit of that pressure, but I cannot look too much at it. I cannot get clouded by stuff like that. Some days it just doesn’t happen. That’s bike racing.”
Going forward, Simon knows he will reunited with his brother, and they can lean on each as only brothers can.
“We get on well. We’ve been training and racing together since an early age. When it’s cold or rainy, we help motivate each other to get on the bike,” Simon said. “We both started racing at the same time. We’ve grown up on the bike.”
The twins will relocate to Girona, Spain, the bustling hotbed of ex-pat cyclists in the northeastern part of the country. They’re on neo-pro contracts, with no pressure to perform, but with all the excitement that comes with joining the pro ranks.
“My plan from the start of the season was to sign a pro contract for 2014. I had the results,” Simon said. “Next year, I just need to learn the ropes and find my place. I want to learn from the pros, and see how they do it. Girona is the perfect place to learn the pro lifestyle.”
In the coming weeks, the brothers will travel to Australia to meet their new teammates and begin their new adventure. Simon says he’s champing at the bit.
“I just cannot wait. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and talking schedule,” he said. “I love racing my bike. Once we you get racing, everyone wants to win, don’t they? That’s the ultimate.”
The brothers will find out soon enough just how hard that is.