By Paul Knott published
Rolling up to the family-owned, cycling-themed Drop Off Cafe in Edenfield just north of Bury, it is clear the passion for the sport is alive and well. A bright yellow steed perched upon the cafe’s sign invites both bike and rider into the cafe’s confines to shelter from the brisk autumnal conditions.
As a gaggle of Bury Clarion riders stride in to get their pre-ride coffee, wearing a mish-mash of the old and new club kit, they discuss the fortunes of Manchester’s two football clubs from the night before. Nevertheless, it’s the success of two local cyclists who have reached the pinnacle of the sport that is the reason why we have descended on Ramsbottom just north of the town that the young Yates brothers resided in.
Bury Clarion’s growth in the past 20 years has been substantial to say the least, rising from 30 members in total — where only half would actually ride — to around 160 active members in 2018, including the formation of a women’s side of the club.
Twenty years ago today’s turnout would have represented the entire membership joining myself on a ride around the local area on a grey but calm autumnal morning. However, there were two members who stood out back then more than most — for their stature more than anything.
“They were absolutely tiny,” recalls former club chairman Nick Hall.
“You wondered would these little kids keep up, and they may have lacked a bit of stamina at that age but they were always pretty quick and racing each other to the top of the hills. But it didn’t take long to get the stamina either.”
Hall is recounting the tale of Simon and Adam Yates’s first foray into club cycling, as I ride with him and 30 other Clarion riders around the roads surrounding Bury and Rochdale. He explains how their father and local club helped them on that journey.
“John [Yates, Adam and Simon’s father] used to do a lot of running but stopped and got into cycling and got them into it, and it was a similar time to when the velodrome in Manchester opened . So it was really good timing as they got that bug for racing.”
From as long as Hall knew the twins, he recalls how they would claim they wanted to be professional cyclists. Many young Mancunian boys want to play for Manchester United when they are older but few do. The Yates’s pipe dream, however, would turn into a reality.
In the Clarion’s lean years, when only a handful of active members existed, Hall reveals that organised club rides weren’t quite so prevalent as they are today.
“There might be me, John and a couple of others and then often Simon and Adam. We would organise a looped ride and then they would add an extra loop on, so we would do a ride and they would fly off and then re-join. John was conscious of safety with two 14-year-old lads out on the roads in the dark and you’ve got to be careful. It was fairly obvious, though, they had quite a lot of talent at a very young age.”
The talented twosome may have origins with Bury Clarion but due to their youth and sudden rise to prominence at the Manchester Velodrome the gifted pair was required to ride for MaxGear Cycling as first claim members, and only ride for Bury Clarion on the side — which has now unsurprisingly been upgraded to honorary status.
Perhaps their biggest success for Clarion came in the form of national clarion team pursuit title in 2003, which Hall is more than happy to bring up, as he formed one quarter of the foursome that day. “I got dropped after about six laps, but I’ve still got the medal.”
Even though many of today’s Clarion club members joined long after the Yates brothers moved on up the cycling ranks, it is clear that they are proud to be associated with the club that has helped them on their way to achieving their goals.
Speaking to a number of riders it is clear that Bury Clarion is a club that provides support for riders at every step of the cycling ladder, from those who are training for the Tour de Manc and the Haute Route or others who just want to get out and enjoy the social side of cycling.
As we slowly edge our way up the final ascent of our 40-kilometre route, Hall recalls the significance of the Ashworth Valley climb when the Yates brothers returned to ride with Clarion after first turning pro.
“We persuaded them to come back for a ride with us after they first signed with Orica-GreenEdge, and sort of left the route to them and this was one of climbs they chose for us. We managed to stay together as a group but they were there chatting away at the front chilling, whilst we were all dying behind riding at our maximum heart rate.”
It is unsurprising they chose this route and climb in particular; as the road begins to pitch up above 10 per cent, I visualise the sight of the Yates brothers dancing on the pedals while I’m becoming acquainted with the pain that those Bury Clarion riders felt that day. As we reach the summit and take in the views across the South Pennines, the sweet relief of the fast downhill into Edenfield brings with it the end of our ride.
Just as I rack my bike up outside The Drop Off, once again the heavens begin to open; thankfully the coffees and cakes are served up by cafe owner Colin Davies who recalls himself how the sighting of a Yates brother rolling up can happen at the unlikeliest of times.
“I think it was the 2016 Tour, Adam Yates won the white jersey in Paris riding up the Champs-Élysées on the Sunday and was outside here with a brew on the Tuesday morning going out on a social ride with his dad.”
Having seen the Yates brothers ride with his own children, Davies is delighted to see them both come good. “We’ve known both of them since they were two cheeky 11-year-old kids. As and when Simon comes in, it’s up to him, he has too nice a lifestyle to come back to this weather.”
When he does return, apparently it’s the local cafe’s beans on toast and a standard coffee that is his usual order.
“I can’t remember the last time he came in, he’s had a busy year so he’s not had the time to come back.”
As Davies reminisces about previous Clarion youngsters finding their way through to the pro ranks, I’m intrigued to find out about the up and coming Clarion generation. As I sit down with club chairman Peter Foster it is clear that it is an area that Bury Clarion are keen to invest time and effort into as the hunt for the next Simon or Adam begins.
“In March we had three children turning up to our coaching sessions, which we ran down at Bury Football Club in their car park. We had a bit of a change around with a different style of coaching and we seem to be consistently getting 20 children now, which is excellent!”
This link up with the local football club — who aren’t exactly living on similar resources to many other wealthier football clubs in the area — has also seen them donate a hut to Clarion to use during the winter season for the children to learn how to ride and train on rollers. Which can only help grow the Bury Clarion Bullets, as the youth set-up is named.
“That’s what we need, we need those children coming through and we’re hoping by this time next year we will have a good percentage of them racing as well. The competition isn’t too great, but it’s about getting children into cycling and letting them know it’s available,” says Davies.
One of the main reasons for this influx of local children taking up the sport is the success of Simon Yates and his brother. With potentially many more Grand Tour titles and one-day successes to be shared between them, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bury Clarion’s membership continues to grow. They may even require another hut to host the next influx of Yates wannabes.
Following the Yates brothers across the Grand Tours
Despite plying their trade overseas in mainland Europe, the Yates brothers have never been far away from home support this season. Paul and Adele Van Der Kamp have made the mostof their semi-retirement and followed their fellow Bury Clarion cyclists on the biggest stages of them all.
“We followed the Giro, the Dauphiné, the Tour de France and then went down to the Vuelta,” says Paul.
“It was always a wish of mine to follow the races from start to finish in their entirety. We thought now is the time to doit, it was just an added bonusthat Simon was in the Giro, Adam was in the Dauphiné and Tour de France and then Simon won the Vuelta, which was the icing on the cake.”
Having cycled with the Yates’s father up to four times a week in recent years, Paul has a link to the brothers and even joked to their father that he was seeing his sons more than he was this past year.
“Because of the connection with John they give us a little bit more time than they would do if we were total strangers. So they’ll have a chat with us and I’ll show them a picture of what their dad has been up to when we had last been cycling.”
While careful not to be intrusive, Adele hopes that brothers enjoy having a little slice of Bury out on the European roads. Creating friendships with a number of Spaniards while following the Vuelta led to Yates gaining second-favourite-rider status — after Alejandro Valverde — among some locals. The Van der Kamps often receive phone messages from acquaintances they met on their jaunt, explaining how the paintings of ‘Yates You Can’ still remain on the secluded Spanish roads.
“We like to let them know we are there, but we don’t want to keep reminding them and get on their nerves.”
Taking in the action of the pros racing over the famous climbs was just the tip of the iceberg for Paul who was able to ride them himself. Even after claiming that it was a once in a lifetime experience he soon admits that they are already planning on repeating their trips for next year, meaning that Simon and Adam can be assured that a slice of Lancashire love won’t be far away.
Paul Knott is a fitness and features writer, who has also presented Cycling Weekly videos as well as contributing to the print magazine as well as online articles. In 2020 he published his first book, The Official Tour de France Road Cycling Training Guide (Welbeck), a guide designed to help readers improve their cycling performance via cherrypicking from the strategies adopted by the pros.
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