The British former professional rider explained that he could not refuse the offer to work for the Tinkoff squad, but that he would rather not speak about Sky or ‘zero tolerance’.
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“Chris Froome’s Tour de France win? I watched everything. My life is cycling, it has been for 40 years,” Yates told Cycling Weekly about his time off from the top level of cycling after leaving Sky.
“I was able to look after my children. My sons ride, they are 21 and 18. I coached them. I had a big transit van, and we went to races and trips to watch the Tour two years running.
“The Tinkoff-Saxo offer was not one I could turn down, really. If I turned it down, then it’d definitely be over for me.”
The 54-year-old Englishman joined the Russian/Danish team of Oleg Tinkov and Bjarne Riis over the winter. He will coach Chris Anker Sørensen and Bruno Pires, and direct teams at Paris-Nice, País Vasco, the Ardennes Classics and, of course, the Tour of Oman.
“I’m not on Alberto Contador‘s schedule, that’s Steven de Jongh,” he added, “but I’m down to do the Tour with Steven and Alberto.”
His last Tour de France as a sports director in 2012 was a success. He helped direct Sky’s Bradley Wiggins to the win, the first British overall winner in history, and Chris Froome to second place. That autumn, however, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) ruled on Lance Armstrong and Yates was caught in the web.
Yates rode alongside Armstrong from 1992 to 1996 in team Motorola and helped direct the Discovery Channel team when Armstrong won the 2005 Tour and in 2009 for team Astana, where he placed third overall. The agency used photos of him in its evidence to identify drug carrier ‘Motoman’. It said that Armstrong doped through 2011, but Yates explained at the time that he had no idea.
Sky cleaned house that winter. Race Coach Bobby Julich and Sports Director Steven de Jongh admitted to using EPO in their careers and resigned. The team announced that Yates, its senior sports director, left for “purely personal reasons”.
“I’m not commenting on anything to do with Sky or Lance Armstrong,” Yates said on Thursday.
“I don’t know,” he added when asked about zero-tolerance’s feasibility in cycling. “I’m not going to comment on that or anything controversial because every time I do, it hits the headlines.”
He explained that he understands that some people may frown on his decision to join team Tinkoff. The team in neon yellow consists of several riders and staff who admitted doping or wrong-doing, or served suspensions: Team Manager Bjarne Riis, Roman Kreuziger and Contador, respectively.
“I decided to come to it,” said Yates. “I believe the team is going in the right direction.”
Besides Yates, the team hired former Sky men Michael Rogers, Julich and de Jongh.
“I worked with Bjarne before. Julich and de Jongh too. Julich left BMC, he didn’t like it there so he came to Tinkoff with [head of sports science] Dan Healey,” Yates said.
“Guys like Mick Rogers, who’d been at Sky, saw how Sky worked, and the general feeling was that Tinkoff-Saxo had to step up on the DS/coach front, and move forward because they were lagging a bit.”
Yates spoke for 10 minutes while his riders prepared for the third stage. For many, including Yates and star cyclist Peter Sagan, the Tour of Oman marks the start of a new year and adventure in Tinkoff’s yellow.
“Everyone’s a bit nervous because you’ve been away for a while and you’re starting fresh,” Yates continued.
“It’s been a little bit daunting, but at the end of the day, it’s only bike riding. I feel I’ve slipped into the position well, apart from yesterday when I overslept, and ‘Huffy’ [Tristan Hoffman] thought I died and had to break into my room!”