Feature: A conversation with the Yates brothers

Fri 14 Dec 2018

After a record number of wins for Mitchelton-SCOTT in 2018 including the team’s first ever Grand Tour victory at La Vuelta a Espana, we caught up with Adam and Simon Yates at the end of year camp in Italy to talk beginnings, development and bragging rights. 

Down to earth. Determined. Northern.

What other sports did you play at school?

Simon: “Running and swimming"

Adam: “We played football for a little bit…”

Simon: “Yeah football too, but not really seriously or anything successful just in the school yard.”

Where did it all begin?

Bury, Lancashire. John, the boy’s father was a serious runner until his knees started to pay the price and he joined the local cycling club Bury Clarion, taking Adam and Simon along to watch the weekly sessions at Manchester Velodrome it wasn’t long before the twins were out on the boards themselves.

Simon: “It definitely started with Big John, he took us to the Velodrome just because of his injuries from running.”

Adam: “As soon as we went we just kept going, didn’t we? You go the first time, come back a week later and that’s it then. You’re hooked.”

Simon: “At first you started on the Monday evenings and then progressed to the Saturday mornings and then you progressed to the Wednesday evenings,”

Adam: “Yeah, with each different session more serious and harder than the last.”

Simon: “And from there you could stay behind after the Monday training session and race. That’s when we started racing. We were still really young then, only ten or eleven.”

Adam: “In those races we were doing eight lap scratch races and 12 lap points races, so you’re not really racing you’re just having fun, but it was competitive.

“There was a bit of a group there of us and everyone would turn up to the same sessions and when we progressed a lot of the guys we started with also progressed and you continue to race together until you’re 14 or 16 and then you start racing each other on the road.”

A golden generation of British cyclists had passed and were still passing through Manchester Velodrome in the early noughties and for the Yates brothers those sessions were fast becoming the focal point of their weeks and inevitably led them out onto the Lancashire lanes.

When did you first get road bikes?

Adam: “Didn’t we get road bikes for that sportive?”

Simon: “Possibly. Manchester to Blackpool?”

Adam. “Yeah. I don’t know if that was the reason, it’s one of the first long rides on the road I remember.”

So, you only rode on the track for how long?

Simon: “Five or six years. It was only when we were 15 going on 16 that we really started on the road regularly and until that moment it had all been track. I think it was a natural progression, there’s more races on the road."

Adam: “It gets to a point on the track when you don’t race anymore. You’re doing Friday’s or Tuesday’s, the track league stuff.”

Simon: “But that stops after the winter and then during the summer there’s nothing on, so when we were that age going out on the road became another way to keep racing.”

As noted in the media during this year’s Giro d’Italia, Clarion’s chairman Nick Hall recalled that even as teenagers on the track they were ferociously competitive - “They’d race each other to the traffic lights, or past a bus stop or whatever, but what struck me was that they both already knew they wanted to turn pro.” 

Competitive from the start, when did you both realise you were any good?

Simon: “We were pretty good straight away if I’m honest. We progressed through the categories and through the track days quite quickly and quite easily, but on the road, we weren’t anything special. We didn’t really have that strength.”

“We were quick, but it took quite a long time for us to develop endurance. We would win races at U16 and junior level, but it didn’t come as naturally as the track, so there was quite of lot of hard work there.”

Wanting to turn pro is one thing, but when did you know it was a possibility?

Simon: “Well when I was 17 I joined the British Cycling academy and you headed to France, I did the Commonwealth Games when I was a 17-year-old and went on from there.”

Adam: “Yeah, I went to college for two years and then went to France and we both signed for the team in 2014.”

Following different paths to the pro-ranks but signing together for what was then Orica-GreenEDGE (Mitchelton-SCOTT) with the assurance of development and opportunities, the brothers have not looked back and followed a keen arc of progress with the Australian team.

Simon: “The results back that up and you can see the natural progression from year to year, it’s 100% the right place for us.”

Adam: “Like Simon said you can see the development in the results, year on year the results are getting better and better.”

Simon: “More consistent also.”

Adam: “Yeah more consistent and even if you don’t win as much, you’re still up there, fighting with the best guys in the world for results and you can see the consistency and development is there.”

“We’ve been doing this a long time since we were ten or eleven and if you look back over the years we’ve always been competitive and fighting for results but now it’s the biggest races in the world. It’s all progress and we’re always developing, even Valverde is still developing.

“You can always learn something new, always change something, try something different. There’s always something you can work on to improve.”

In 2018 those years of progression and development that started on school nights spent at Manchester Velodrome reached the top step of La Vuelta and Grand Tour glory.

Simon: “I don’t think it changes anything, as a team we now know what it takes to win big races and I think we just have to continue in the direction we’re headed.”

“We made some mistakes in the Vuelta, it wasn’t a flawless run so there are still things to work on and improve on, but we learnt a lot in Spain and at the Giro about riding with the leader’s jersey.”

And finally, does the Vuelta win give Simon bragging rights?

Adam: “No.”

Simon: “I don’t think it ever does.”

Adam: “I’ll still put him away. One on one, I’ll put him away any day.”

Simon: “Mano a mano.”


Photos courtesy of Kristof Ramon