In a sport that seems so full of the shady and the devious, we ought to celebrate honesty wherever we find it.
Just think of what they might have achieved if they had concealed this. A whole spare body is the holy grail that we’ve been looking for all these years. Those race mornings when your legs shriek with protest the moment you put your feet on the floor?
The days you daren’t sit down for breakfast because you fear you’ll never be able to get up again? Fetch the spare me. He can beat Chris Froome today, and I’ll beat him tomorrow.
They could even have swapped mid stage: “And the Mitchelton-Scott bike is going back to the team car for its spare rider.” At a more mundane level, one could do the racing and the other could do the press conference while the first has a massage and a bowl of recovery Coco Pops.
Clearly there would be risks. I had identical twin friends at school. They tried all the stunts you’d expect — they swapped classes, exchanged jumpers midway through a party, and so on. The upshot was that they became famed for their astonishing inability to recall things that had happened to them yesterday and for being unable to remember their friends.
They seemed to have half the combined brainpower, not double. So I know that it’s a fraud that’s fraught with risk; some degree of planning is essential. A full list of enemies made and alliances forged would have to be exchanged daily.
There is something else, though. What I remember about my relationship with my twin friends was not the opportunities for subterfuge. What I really wanted was to be allowed to do experiments on them. I proposed a very good biology GCSE project that, sadly, failed to get past the ethics committee.
(I wanted to get one of them to wear a bag over her head for two weeks to see what effect sunlight had on freckles, which doesn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to want to do.)
Waste of genetics
Now I look at the Yates brothers, and of course I have similar thoughts. I can’t help thinking that if you have identical twin elite athletes, letting them just go racing is a tragic waste of opportunity. You can get anyone to go racing. Genetically identical twins are too valuable for that.
A few years ago I did an experiment where I did endurance training with my right leg and sprint training with my left. Think how much less stupid that would have seemed if I’d had access to some twins. You could get one of them to train, and the other to just watch movies, and see what happened when you put them in the same race after six months.
And if you discovered that different training had different effects, you could combine this with my first suggestion. Turn one of them from climber to sprinter, and you’d have the perfect bike rider.
But I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. Well, I say that. There is always the possibility that I’m wrong about there being two of them. It has been suggested to me by a conspiracy theorist on Twitter (best place to find one) that perhaps there aren’t two at all. Perhaps there are four identical Yates brothers, and they’re already doing all the things I want them to do.
If this is the case, well lads, you can tell me. I won’t pass it on. But I’d love to know.
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Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. As a rider he won multiple national titles in both Britain and Ireland and competed at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. He was a three-time Brompton folding-bike World Champion, and once hit 73 mph riding down a hill in Wales. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine
As a writer, he wrote the award winning The Hour about his attempt on the sport’s most famous and sought-after record. He followed that up with Faster, about the training, the science the genetics and the luck behind the world’s fastest riders, and Re:Cyclists, a history of cyclists from 1816 to the present day.
He’s written for outlets ranging from Cycling Weekly to the New York Times, and has presented and and commentated for the BBC, Eurosport, Channel 4, and Sky Sports.
Before he did any of that he was a legal academic at Cambridge and Sussex universities. He now lives with far too many bicycles in London and Cambridgeshire.
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