On the opening day of Paris-Nice, which was Simon Yates’s first race at WorldTour level for Orica-GreenEdge, he said: “I’m not kidding myself that I’ll be up there competing in races like Paris-Nice straight away.”
And yet before the week was over, he was doing just that, taking 15th in the uphill finish at Biot, a few bike lengths behind stage winner Tom-Jelte Slagter, world champion Rui Costa and overall winner Carlos Betancur.
The following month he was 12th overall at the Tour of the Basque Country — a fine result for a first-year pro. A crash and a broken collarbone at the Tour of Turkey could have derailed his season, but it did the opposite. His brother Adam clinched the overall in Turkey, yet it was Simon who found himself in line for a place in the Tour de France.
After a solid comeback — seventh in the Tour of Slovenia, and third in the National Championships road race — Yates was selected for his first Grand Tour.
Although the Grand Départ was in Yorkshire, just across the Pennines from Yates’s hometown Bury, this was no sentimental decision. As the team’s sports director Matt White said: “You don’t pick a young rider for the Tour de France if there’s any danger it’ll be too much too soon. We know Simon can take it on.”
The Tour was a success. He got in two breakaways; a five-rider effort on the hilly stage to Gérardmer, the second as the race reached the Alps. What was telling was that he was disappointed that neither had been successful. Here was a 21-year-old, riding his first Tour de France, crestfallen after having not won a stage.
It’s difficult not to get carried away when such a talent emerges, but when Shane Sutton says he believes they’ve got Tour-winning potential it’s almost impossible not to.