How ‘battle-hardened’ Yates learned from bitter Giro experience

Simon Yates

Simon Yates picked himself up from disappointment in the Giro d’Italia and will win his first Grand Tour in Madrid

There are familiar semantic havens when sport brings failure rather than success.

We’ll be stronger for this loss. You learn more from defeat than victory. This is all part of the journey.

Most of the time they ring hollow. If you’re stronger for a loss, why not try to lose all the time? Why should failing to overcome problems teach you more than successfully working out the solutions? A journey can be enlightening yet it must also reach its final destination.

Sometimes they are more than cliche. Simon Yates’ impending victory at the Vuelta a Espana has been buttressed by the strength of his Michelton-Scott team and eased by the absence of some star names and the troubled form of others. But more than anything else, it has come from experience, and not just the happy kind.

Yates came within two days of winning the Giro d’Italia in May. He held the race’s pink jersey – the maglia rosa – for 13 days, won three stages and rode with consistent panache.

You couldn’t miss him, all the way to the 19th stage where suddenly you couldn’t see him.

As Chris Froome launched his famous solo attack on the Colle delle Finestre, Yates imploded, losing 38 minutes on the day and tumbling from first on the general classification to 17th.

A victory of attrition – not spectacular assaults


Simon Yates is joining the elite names of his sport by winning the Vuelta

In Spain, he has ridden with the grizzled caution of a connoisseur. When he first took the leader’s red jersey he was happy to soon cede it. As he has won it back he has done it not with spectacular assaults but with attrition and restraint.

At least once a day, he says, his team sport director Matt White has told him to ease off the throttle. He has listened every time.

Yates’ tactics at the Giro were in part dictated by his rivals and by the parcours.

Up against Froome and Tom Dumoulin and with a long time trial in the final week, he felt forced to hunt every bonus second he could find before then.

His expectations shifted too; he had begun the race as support for team-mate Esteban Chaves, only for their divergent form on the road to lead to a rapid reassessment.

The Vuelta has been different. Froome and Dumoulin are absent, spent from their exploits at the Giro and Tour. Geraint Thomas is recovering from his own glorious graduation. Richie Porte, Vincenzo Nibali and Mikel Landa have all been brought low by injury.

But Yates is different too. The Giro is unpredictable, a race that throws fireworks at you, the maverick brother of the more controllable, corporate Tour. Yates rode it in character, attacking from close in, attacking from distance; chasing a team-mate, doing it solo. Dancing on the pedals, climbing with an easy grace and explosive acceleration.

He has ridden the Vuelta the way Alastair Cook approached his Test innings, the way Jordan Spieth won his debut Masters: with calculation, with restraint, with an eye on the long-term. The cruel three-week examination of a Grand Tour demands consistency as much as flair.

One-off displays of verve are fine. The battle-hardened ability to see off multiple attacks and rivals and conditions takes longer to learn.

‘The Yates brothers stood out from very early on’


Adam Yates (left) has been riding in the shadow of his brother Simon (right) in this year’s Vuelta

Yates has soaked all those lessons up, just as he did after winning the white jersey for the best young rider at the Tour de France a year ago, in becoming world champion in the points race on the track in 2013, after finishing second at the Paris-Nice stage race earlier this year.

But the 26-year-old, like his twin brother Adam, has always been quick to absorb the education of the road.

“The first time I saw them they were 12, these two tiny little lads, and your first thought was, blimey, what are these two doing coming out with adults?” remembers Nick Hall, chairman of Bury Clarion cycling club.

“You soon realised why. That first ride was only 30 miles or so. At that stage they obviously lacked a bit of stamina, but even then you could tell they were two very talented lads.

“Talking to them, even at that age, you asked them what they wanted to do and they would say ‘professional bike rider’. Other lads of the same age were playing football in the park and wanted to be Premier League footballers. For the Yates it was all cycling.

“They would sprint to the next lamppost and sprint against each other. In a friendly manner, but that competitive edge was always there between them. When they were in serious races they would race each other, but on training rides they were very competitive.

“When they started racing at Manchester velodrome, that made a massive difference to them. And they stood out among their peers there. They progressed to outdoor races and once again they stood out from very early on.”

It’s quite some trinity


Geraint Thomas, left, Simon Yates, second left, and Chris Froome, right, during the 2017 Tour de France

Only twice before has one country made a clean sweep of all three Grand Tours in the same season: in 1964, when Frenchman Jacques Anquetil won the Tour and Giro and his compatriot Raymond Poulidor the Vuelta, and then in 2008 when Spain’s Alberto Contador took the Giro and Vuelta and Carlos Sastre the Tour.

Never before have three different men from the same nation each won one apiece. And then came this golden year for British cycling in an era that had already brought unprecedented success: Froome charging late to snatch the Giro, Thomas indomitable across three weeks in France, Yates set to complete the hat-trick in Madrid on Sunday.

It is quite some trinity. The Yates twins have previously been compared to triathlon’s Brownlee brothers, two other similarly flinty siblings from across the Pennines in Leeds.

While both sets of brothers share a fierce competitiveness, the dynamics are subtly different. Alistair Brownlee is two years Jonny’s senior and when the two have raced together in the Olympics he has come out on top both times.

There are only five minutes between Simon and Adam, the two taking different routes into elite cycling until both joined the Australian team that was then Orica-GreenEdge, and there has been little between them in terms of their palmares, at least until this week.

Totally at ease with pressure of competition


Simon Yates shakes the hand of home favourite and main rival Alejandro Valverde before the start of the 19th stage of the Vuelta a Espana

Both are more comfortable in the saddle than in front of a microphone. Both are totally at ease with the pressures of competition. Simon, throughout the past three weeks, has seldom appeared jittery.

“Simon and Adam take it all in their stride,” says Nick Hall. “Even when they first turned professional, they raced against the top riders like Alberto Contador and Chris Froome like they were racing in a local club ride.

“Although they respected them, they were never overawed by them. They were always comfortable in that environment.

“They’re both very chilled out. That comes from their mum and dad, John and Sue, although their parents can never watch them racing on TV in the same room. One has to go in the front room, the other in the back. They get too tense.”

Vuelta win should make Simon a star

There is no fluking a Grand Tour. To win one, as with a tennis grand slam or golf major, requires repeated excellence. There can be no lucky long-range goal to nick it against the odds.

That should make the older Yates a star. He will be more of a marked man from now on. Teams will devise tactics to neutralise his strengths. His improvised moves will be watched with care.

But just as he has developed across the four months from the Giro to now, so he should improve again.

The disappointments of the final few days in Italy were not the defining narrative in his year. The Vuelta triumph may only be the start of the rest of his career.

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Vuelta a Espana 2018: Simon Yates set to win his first Grand Tour

Simon Yates

Yates crosses the finish line on stage 20, knowing he has won the race

Britain’s Simon Yates will win a first Grand Tour after finishing third on the Vuelta a Espana’s penultimate stage.

Yates leads stage 20 winner Enric Mas by one minute 46 seconds with Sunday’s processional race to Madrid to come.

Tradition dictates the race leader is not attacked on the final stage so he just needs to cross the line to win.

It means British riders will hold all three Grand Tour titles after Chris Froome won the 2018 Giro d’Italia and Geraint Thomas took the Tour de France.

And Yates’ victory will be the fifth Grand Tour triumph in a row for Britain after Froome also won last year’s Tour and Vuelta.

The 26-year-old MItchelton-Scott rider come close to winning one of the sport’s three-week races in May when he led the Giro going into stage 19. However, he was undone by Froome’s stunning solo ride as the Team Sky rider won a sixth Grand Tour.

Fears of a repeat at the Vuelta were quickly quashed with Yates riding a more measured race.

More follows.

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Vuelta a Espana 2018: Simon Yates increases lead after stage 19

Breaking news

Britain’s Simon Yates took command of the Vuelta a Espana after finishing second on stage 19 to increase his lead to one minute 38 seconds.

The 26-year-old, bidding to become only the second Briton to win the Vuelta after Chris Froome in 2017, was 25 seconds clear before Friday’s stage.

A superb burst saw him go clear, before Thibaut Pinot won the 154.5km stage from Lleida to Coll de la Rabassa.

Nearest rival Alejandro Valverde lost ground after finishing eighth.

Saturday’s racing sees a 97km run across the mountains, before Sunday’s closing from Alcorcon to Madrid.

More to follow.

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‘I was more scared of being alone than of not walking’

Kristina Vogel

Kristina Vogel won 11 world titles, two Olympic gold medals and three European golds in her cycling career

“The big deal was learning that crying is OK. I never was a person who cried a lot. Especially not winning the Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016. I never cried. Never cried.

“A lot of my friends and family had not seen me cry. But it’s OK to cry, and to feel how bad it is.

“It is bad. I can’t walk any more.

“Sometimes I call my friend and we cry for a few minutes. And then it’s fine, and I dry my tears and I go on.”

Kristina Vogel was a remarkable woman in her first life, as a superstar track cyclist, and she is turning out to be more remarkable still in her second.

On 26 June this year, during a regulation training session at the Cottbus velodrome in her native Germany, Vogel collided with a Dutch cyclist who was practising his standing starts. She was travelling at close to 40mph.

The impact severed her spinal cord at the seventh thoracic vertebrae. A straightforward, impersonal medical phrase for the most catastrophic of outcomes.

“It was a normal day. We had planned a few things in the afternoon for [fellow cyclist] Max Levy’s birthday. I was training with my team-mate Pauline Grabosch. She was in front, and then she passed… and then there’s nothing. Just black.

“I woke up on the track, lying. I said to myself: ‘Breathe, just breathe…’

“They took off my shoes, and I couldn’t feel it when they touched my feet. I saw a team-mate take the shoes away. And in that moment I thought: that’s it, I don’t feel my feet, I don’t feel my legs.

“There was no panic. I just said to Max Levy: ‘Hold my hand.’ I think I was pressing too hard. ‘Max, don’t leave me alone. Don’t let go of my hand.’

“I was more scared of being alone in that second than I was of not walking any more. I just wanted somebody to stay by my side. Stupid, huh?”

Vogel was always about speed. Eleven times a world champion, twice Olympic gold medallist, the German loved swooping off the steep banking, hammering along in the slipstream of a rival, popping out to overpower them.

When we talk she is tired, her morning spent at a news conference, her afternoon now with me, concentrating hard in her second language. She sits in a wheelchair, and she remembers.

“To be honest, I thought I might die. After the first operation, it was hard to select the right medication for me. The first two days after waking up from the coma, it was the hardest fight in my life I have ever had. Every breath I had so much pain.

“I have no idea how I got through it. There was one night when the cleaning woman came round. Normally when they clean the rooms in the hospital they know that there are people lying there in pain. So she asked me if everything is good.

“I said, ‘No, please call the doctor, please call the doctor.’ And she cried next to my bed. Just the cleaning assistant from the hospital. That’s how hard it was in the first week.”


Kristina Vogel won gold and bronze at the Rio Olympics

Vogel is 27 years old. Her partner Michael Seidenbecher, a former track rider himself, has barely left her side for the past two months. Their friends have been active on their behalf, setting up a fundraising campaign with the hashtag ‘staystrongkristina’.

“It is the second big accident I have had in my life [she was hit by a minibus in 2009 and placed in a medically induced coma], and it is the second time I’ve given him so much pain,” she says. “It was very hard for Michael, because his life changed in that moment as well.

“I’m so happy that I have him, because without him I wouldn’t be the person that I am. In the first week he slept on a chair next to my bed. Holding my hand all night.”

She laughs. “It’s crazy, isn’t it? Maybe it’s love, but it’s the second time I’ve put him in this bad, bad situation. I’m so thankful for him.

“It is stupid that you need these life-changing moments for you to realise how many people notice you and what you are doing. I cried when I saw that and I cried when I saw that Chris Hoy gave some jerseys to raise money for me.

“I don’t know how I can give it back to all the people, to say thank you. It’s impossible to say thank you in the same way that they have helped me.”

It’s a curiously selfish instinct that, faced with the tragedies of others, we can tend to start thinking of ourselves. How would I cope with this? Would I be able to be this candid, this rational, this strong?

You are an elite athlete. Your body has been your livelihood, your greatest pleasure. In one moment that has gone. How can you hide from the obvious reaction – why me?

“I never think that,” Vogel says firmly. “Never. It’s a question you can’t answer.

“It’s shit that it’s my accident and I can’t walk any more, but asking why helps nothing. I’m really proud that my mum gave me so much strength that I can handle this.

“I knew in the first seconds that I was paralysed, that I would never walk in my life again. It sounds bad, but I liked knowing, because there was no struggling in my head. You can accept it and you can straight away go forward.”

Was she not angry? At fate, at the poor guy she collided with, at the alternative future she had been working for so hard?

“I never was that angry person before. I was always happy, I always loved my life.

“I still love my life. So nothing changed, really. Just how I move. I’m going to do a lot of things in my wheelchair. It’s different, but it’s still my life, so why not be happy?

“Maybe I’ll feel it when the World Championships come round in March next year. That will be 10 years after my first elite Worlds, and it was my plan to collect a 12th gold medal. Now I can’t, but there is no place in my mind for that right now.

“Maybe there is another way to reach a gold medal in my life. And if not, I reached so many things in my life.”

Vogel’s fund has so far raised 120,000 euros (£107,000). She is looking forward to getting carbon wheels for her chair, an adapted car. She is looking forward, but all you can think is how much you would be looking back.

“I’m feeling free,” she says, with a smile. “Because I don’t have to do anything. It is the first time that my decisions in my life are just for me. There is no pressure from outside or from me because I want to show how good I am. I will find my way back, maybe to sport, maybe not.

“I am a world champion since 2012. From competition to competition, everyone just expects that I will win the gold and I will do good. Before the competition, you’re asked, how are your tactics, and how is your form? When I enter a track everyone looks to see if I am in a good condition or a bad condition. Then you see how the press is writing about you, and there’s a lot of pressure on myself. Every move I make in my life, everyone sees.

“Now it’s like I have stepped out of the circle. I can create something really new and really nice. It’s hard to explain how it feels, but my decisions are just for myself. I’m really happy, and I want to go forward to see something really great.”

When we say goodbye I ask if I can come out to visit in a few months’ time, see how she’s getting on at home, what she does next. Vogel is a woman in a hurry. She always was.

“My left collarbone was broken, so there were eight weeks when I couldn’t have any pressure on it. The doctors said I was faster with one arm than most people using two arms. I’m a freak!

“Maybe it’s because I’m still a fighter in my heart. That I still want to go fast. That when the doctors are standing by my bed saying, Kristina, you need time, I’m saying, ‘No! No! I will show you how fast I am!’

“The tiger is still in my heart. Once a fighter, always a fighter, huh?”

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Road World Championships: Simon & Adam Yates lead British team as Thomas & Froome miss out

Simon Yates

Simon Yates leads the Vuelta and won three stages at the Giro d’Italia in May

Vuelta a Espana leader Simon Yates and his twin brother Adam will lead Britain’s men’s team at the Road World Championships, but Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome will not be taking part.

Tour de France winner Thomas and Giro champion Froome were on the longlist but British Cycling said their withdrawal was a “mutual decision”.

Commonwealth bronze medallist Dani Rowe is part of the women’s road race team.

The Championships take place in Austria from 23-30 September.

“Froome and Thomas are obvious omissions from the men’s team, and this was a decision we made mutually,” said British Cycling performance director Stephen Park.

“Given the challenging nature of the course, we want every rider selected to be able to give their 100% to the team, and on the back of what has been an incredible season for both, it’s understandable they are unable to commit to this.”

The elite men’s road race features more than 5,000m of climbing over a distance of 265km. They will complete seven laps of a 24km Olympic Circuit which has a climb with a gradient of 25% in places.

The women’s race will follow the same route, also finishing in Innsbruck, but they will complete just three laps of the circuit for a race distance of 162.5km.

Simon Yates has enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2018.

The 26-year-old leads the Vuelta by 33 seconds at the start of Wednesday’s stage 17 , while in May he led the Giro d’Italia for 13 days and won three stages before cracking on stage 19 as Froome produced a sensational ride to secure victory.

Full team

Elite men’s road race: Hugh Carthy, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Pete Kennaugh, James Knox, Ian Stannard, Connor Swift, Adam Yates, Simon Yates.

Elite Men’s Time Trial: Alex Dowsett, Tao Geoghagen Hart.

Elite Women’s Road Race: Hannah Barnes, Dani Christmas, Alice Cobb, Anna Henderson, Dani Rowe, Sophie Wright.

Elite Women’s Time Trial: Alice Barnes, Hayley Simmonds.

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