At VeloVeritas we pride ourselves on keeping an eye on who’s on the way up – but this gentleman caught us unawares. We should have spotted that stage win in the 2011 Tour de l’Avenir – there are no ‘soft’ stage wins in that race. So when 20 year-old Simon Yates took the rainbow jersey in the Worlds points race it shouldn’t really have been a surprise.
But the man from Bury has been a World Champion before, with Dan McLay in the junior madison in 2010 – he was also silver medallist in the junior team pursuit that year.
In 2011 came the l’Avenir stage win and a top ten on GC in the tough Thuringen Rundfahrt stage race in Germany.
Last year he rode a good programme – Tour de Normandie, Thuringen again, a spell in Belgium and the Tour of Britain.
But none of that prepared us for him getting the better of riders like Czech warhorse Milan Kadlec and Belgian Six Day star Kenny De Ketele to pull on the rainbow jersey as Points Race Champion of the World.
The GB U23 Academy rider recently took time to tell us about his brilliant win.
Did you have specific ‘danger men’ to mark in the points race, Simon?
“No not really, I’ve seen a few of the guys racing before and knew what style of racing they have so you could just watch and look at them to see what they were planning!
“My coach Chris Newton knew most of the other guys so I talked through with him about how they like to ride.”
You rode a very tactical race – did you have that strategy planned before the start?
“Yes, it’s a long race so you have to save your energy for the important parts of the race and not waste your time with attacks which aren’t going to stick, or going for sprints when guys are a lot fresher.
“With about 70-80 laps to go, I believe I was the strongest/freshest in the race, I’d only really just started scoring points and the guys which had been fighting it out for the early sprints were on their knees, so you have to take advantage of that.”
How did you get into shape for the Worlds – it’s an awkward time of year?
“I rode the Glasgow World Cup and then had a few weeks away from the bike, I hadn’t had a break since October the year before so I needed a good break away just to refresh.
“Once I got back on the bike my brother Adam along with Josh Hunt kicked my head in on the road for a week or so before I moved back into the academy flats in Manchester and from there I didn’t have long before I flew out to Australia. I raced over there with my academy team mates, Ali Slater, Chris Latham and Sam Lowe; we raced the famous Bay crits there and then straight into the Sun Tour after that.
“The racing was hard, especially in the heat; we had gone from -6 to +30 degrees, so we suffered for the first few races. It’s a shame actually as in the Sun Tour it hit 47 degrees on the first stage and I lost a lot of time; but after that it cooled down for the next stages.
“I was fourth & seventh on subsequent stages and if I hadn’t lost the time of the first day I would have been up there inside the top 10 overall!
“After the racing we stayed for a two week training camp, soaking up the sun before heading back home to start the more specific track and speed work.”
I noticed there was no ‘super bike’ for you in the points – and what gear did you ride?
“Yeah, I rode it on a standard Pinarello, but I think the “Superbikes” are hyped up quite a bit.
“With it not being an Olympic event I do feel as though it doesn’t get the same amount of recognition and treatment as the omnium or team pursuit, so I expected that I wouldn’t be on one.
“I rode 49×14; it felt really small at the beginning of the race, but with the tactic I was employing I had to go small so I would be fresher towards the end.”
There doesn’t seem to have been that much fuss about what was a great ride – do you think that perhaps we’re taking for granted that GB should win world track titles?
“Yes, with the way cycling has been going people do expect medals at the world championships – and if GB doesn’t dominate then it’s been a disaster!
“But we were a young team so there didn’t seem to be as much expectation compared to previous years, especially in the points.
“The only pressure to win was what I put on myself.”
The madison, 11th @ one lap with 2 points – disappointing?
“Yes of course it’s disappointing, we went in with the same tactic from the points, wait back and score later on but it never really happened.
“I believe we were under-geared quite by quite a but, we rode 52×15, but in the madison you’re coming in off the change from your team mate at over 50kph – if not faster – and you’re on top of the gear before you even start applying the pressure, so it’s hard to win sprints if your already going flat out!
“Doull didn’t have great legs and he’d had a bad stomach the night before; but didn’t want to make excuses up. He’s been training specifically for the team pursuit and only really started training for the bunch events a few weeks out, which isn’t the correct preparation for it, really.
“He’d been training to go as fast as possible for four minutes not 40, so it would have been a tall order.”
You’ve been World Madison Champion before – junior 2010 with Dan McLay – is it a title you’d like to go for in future?
“Yes, but in order to win you need to have two guys fully committed to the bunch races, and not trying to dip into both the team pursuit and bunch races.
“The team pursuit is too specific these days to do both.”
You were also a junior worlds silver medallist in the team pursuit – is making the senior team something you’ve considered?
“I would never say ‘never’ but I believe it’s a tall order.
“I said before the Glasgow World Cup that I would try for the team pursuit and didn’t make the team for there; when you have Ed Clancy, Steve Burke coming back into the team it puts me a long way down the pecking order.
“Then there are a few young guys who are fully committed to the track as well so as I say, it would be a tall order!
“Never say; ‘never’ though!”
Which is your favourite – road or track?
“I love both! The track is where I started riding and I don’t think I would have become a bike rider if it wasn’t for the velodrome in Manchester; but then I love the road too.
That was a nice stage win in l’Avenir in 2011, tell us about it – did it get the phone ringing from pro teams?
“No, the phone stayed quiet!
“I believe if I had been more successful earlier in the year then more teams may have looked into signing me but I didn’t really show I could back it up.
“It gave me a lot of confidence for the year though, and if I hadn’t crashed and broken my shoulder I could have picked up a few more results to catch the eye of the pro teams.”
What were the U23 Worlds like in Valkenburg for you?
“It’s up there with worst days I’ve had on the bike. Still, to this day I don’t know why I felt so bad.
“The course suited me perfectly; so it’s a shame, I’d been going well not long before in the Tour of Britain and picked up eighth on a stage which had a similar feel to the Worlds course, so I went into it with a lot of confidence but some things are just aren’t meant to be!”
Tell us about the U23 Academy; some say it’s too much of a ‘boot camp’?
“It’s not at all like a boot camp really! It’s changed since the days of it being like that.
“We’ve got a big team this year, nine guys so competition for places in races is going to be tough! Everyone is really motivated at the minute as the road season is upon us. Hopefully we can get some good results early in the year to set us up for the rest of it!”
Is possible progression into Team Sky something that’s discussed?
“Hopefully, nothings been discussed yet about moving onto Sky; but hopefully in the near future?”
What’s your programme, now?
“I will be targeting the U23 Nation Cups this year, the first one, which is the Tour of Flanders is on the 6th April and the others follow swiftly afterwards.
“After these I’d like to go well in the Tour of Britain – if we can get a ride again like last year.”
Where do you want to be with your cycling career in five years time?
“Hopefully I will become a professional on the road; that’s my immediate aim.
“And then dependent on whether the points race/bunch races come back into the Olympics, I’d like to go the Rio – but that seems a long away yet!”