Youth and potential sets Simon Yates at is chairman of cycling’s next generation | William Fotheringham

The new Vuelta champion is the youngest recent grand tour winner and can benefit from his teams new focus on the discipline

Seven years ago, when Simon Yates took his first stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir, Great Britain had yet to win one of cycling’s major tours, although Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome were about to come agonisingly close at the Vuelta a Espana. Eight grand tour wins later, out of a possible 18, with four different riders, British domination of this side of cycling now seems a devoted, in the same way that Quickstep Floors are expected to rule the roost in one-day Classics.

In winning the Vuelta by 1min 46 sec from the astonish runner-up Enric Mas, Yates has finally confirmed the potential he indicated back in 2011. It was a timely leap, as the next generation is waiting in the wings: the American Sepp Kuss, so strong in the first two weeks of his first grand tour, Spain’s Mas, the Colombians Miguel Angel Lopez and Egan Bernal.

Realising potential is rarely as straightforward as a simple improvement graph may suggest, as many can testify, most recently Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. In a three-week tour the transition from targeting a top-1 0 finish overall, and- as was Yates’s instance- the young rider’s jersey to going full-on for an overall win is not to be underestimated. The priority ceases to be that of simply staying in touch but becomes a delicate balancing act: gaining period at key moments although it is not risking excessive loss, on any devoted day or in the working day that lie ahead.

In three months Yates has learned rapidly, given the contrast between the Giro d’Italia, where he signally failed to husband his resources, and the Vuelta, where he managed his strength perfectly for the final week. His ability to read a race and time his move was evident well before he turned professional in 2014 but he has added to that the ability to read himself and his body over three weeks.

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To achieve this he has had to curb and control the attacking instincts which have stimulated him so exciting to watch over the last five years.” When I find myself on the defensive, it’s quite hard, mentally, to react to people ,” he said on Saturday.” You never feel like you have the edge or you get the jump, or you astonish anyone. When you’re more aggressive, and you’re attacking, you get that little bit of momentum, you have that bit of a jumping, that bit of astound, and it makes a big difference .”

Simon
Simon Yates, third left, with his Mitchelton-Scott teammates on the final stage. Photograph: Manuel Bruque/ EPA

Compared with this year’s British grand tour winners Froome and Geraint Thomas, Yates has youth on his side, at 26 to Thomas’s 32 and Froome’s 33. Whereas the Team Sky duo can hardly be expected to forge ahead physically now they are entering their mid-3 0s, Yates should have at least a couple of years before he reaches his potential; in 2016 his director, Matt White, told you he expected Yates to improve for perhaps 10 more seasons. Of recent grand tour wins- Fabio Aru and Nairo Quintana, Froome, Tom Dumoulin, Thomas- he is the youngest racing.

His Mitchelton-Scott team will also grow stronger; the departure of the sprinter Caleb Ewan means they have completed the transition from a sprint and one-day-oriented team into one centred on the grand tours. They will never enjoy Team Sky’s budget, so are unlikely to afford superstars such as Michal Kwiatkowski or- in the past- Mikel Landa to use as highly paid team helpers. They will have to keep on boxing clever, and the big test will come when they meet the likes of Dumoulin or Froome on a grand tour course that is less suited to the anarchic racing that marked the 2018 Vuelta.

They do, however, have one key asset: Adam Yates. Mitchelton’s masterstroke in the Vuelta was a piece of resource management taken straight from the Team Sky copy-book: the younger Yates twin was allowed two weeks to ride himself into the race following his disappointing Tour de France, and came good just in time to step forward to support his brother in the final few mountain stages.

This was the first time the twin double-act had been unleashed on a three-week tour and it ran every bit as well as their performances individually since 2014 had suggested it would. It has been noted that since they turned professional one twin tends to match, and exceed, any given step ahead taken by the other; if this trend is maintained Adam’s big leap forward cannot be far away.

Whether or not Adam Yates matches Simon, there is still the prospect of the Bury twins, backed by an Australian squad that boxes clever, taking on Team Sky’s Froome and Thomas and their heavyweight team of all the talents, with Dumoulin and Primoz Roglic waiting in the wings. If it happens in the near future, it will be something to savour.

Quick guide

Champion’s path to glory

Born 7 August 1992 in Bury, Greater Manchester.

Nickname None, although “The Flying Black Pudding” has been suggested. This has not taken off.

Began cycling Aged nine, he joined Eastlands Velo, and he also rode for the Bury Clarion, his father’s cycling club.

First major title Junior world Madison championship in 2010 with Dan McLay, which are currently rides for the EF-Cannondale WorldTour team. Followed that in 2013 with the world points race championship at Minsk.

Turned professional 2014, together with his twin brother Adam, when he joined the Australian Orica-Greenedge squad, which has since been through various name changes and is now Mitchelton-Scott. This victory is also their first Grand Tour win.

Grand Tour debut Tour de France in 2014, called up at three days’ notice. He figured in significant breaches on two stages before being pulled out by his squad after two weeks, to save his strength for the future.

Breakthrough win Vuelta a Espana stage six at Luintra in 2016. A template for stage wins the following year at Paris-Nice and Tour de Romandie; a solo move from distance at a tactically perfect moment. Also the first Grand Tour stage win for one of the brothers Yates.

Low phases A positive exam for the asthma drug terbutaline in 2016 due to an admin error by his squad, who did not fill out a TUE form even though Yates had declared the drug. The second came this season in the Giro d’Italia, when Yates was resulting the race until he cracked on stage 19, slipping from first to 21 st overall in two days.

Not a lot of people know Mitchelton have various devices to enable team personnel and television commentators to tell the twins apart, for example different coloured sunglasses, different facial hair, and different coloured handlebar stems.

William Fotheringham

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