'Overtraining nearly killed my career just as I was getting started' - reveals Sean Yates

"The more pain I dished out, the more motivated I was" says the legendary Brit – but it sometimes worked against him

Cycling Weekly Lifetime Achievement Award
(Image credit: Future / David Aliaga)

Cycling Weekly's new Lifetime Achievement Award winner Sean Yates spoke at length to James Shrubsall about his career, from his time as an amateur to winning the Tour de France as a directeur sportif with Team Sky, and more. 

Part one: how my determination to win a rainbow jersey nearly finished my career

Sean Yates was well known as a hard man of the bunch during his career who, by his own admission, could absorb major workloads on the bike. "I used to really give it my all," he says, "which meant I was often on the front of the bunch dishing out the pain. The more pain I dished out, the more motivated I was."

But his love of hard work could sometimes work against him. In part one of our interview reveals how his ability to absorb major workloads nearly ended his career just as it was getting going.

"In 1982, I'd made my mind up to try and win a World Pursuit Championship, professional. Basically, I did two months of interval training. Solid. Seven days a week. My stress scores must have been off the scale. I'm talking two lots of two hours a day. I mean, totally insane when you think of it.

"For the first month I was flying – I won the Nationals, and beat Tony Doyle. I could have been world champion on the form I had. But I kept on going for another month and dug myself deeper and deeper into a hole. 

"You know, I was still able to ride and I did come fifth in that Pursuit Championship, but basically, I was on my knees."

But Yates was far from done.

Sean Yates Peugeot

Yates (right) pips Bill Nickson to win the Isle of Wight Classic, 1984

(Image credit: Alamy)

The thousand-mile week

"This was my kind of mindset: I was so pissed off with myself. The following week I did three eight-hour rides, culminating with the World Professional Road championships around Goodwood which was 260k. I did more than 1,000 miles that week. And then I flew straight to the Tour de l'Avenir. Basically I had to pack after five days, I could not get out of my own way, I drove myself into a hole. And that's partly why I had such a bad 1983, you know."

That bad 1983 ended in the worst way for a young pro – with a letter saying he was no longer required at the team.

"I was on the verge of having my career halted there and then. Luckily [team-mates] Stephen Roche and Pascal Simon spoke up for me, and they convinced the management to keep me on, even after getting a letter saying your contract will not be renewed. They changed their minds and extended, and 1984 I had a good year."

Another huge year, it turns out

"I won some more races and I rode the Tour de France for the first time, and then I did all these criteriums because team-mate Robert [Millar] took us along after winning the King of the Mountains. Basically I did 50 days of racing in a row – the Tour followed by 30 days of criteriums."

"Basically I doubled my year's salary. In those days you'd just go with it. You didn't have a manager or someone saying 'that's not very good', or Training Peaks saying you're gonna be screwed. You just did it. So that completely wiped me out. The year after was a bad year, again. It was typical overtraining syndrome."

Tomorrow: Part two: How I got the nickname 'Animal'

* See this week's issue of Cycling Weekly magazine to read more about Sean Yates and all our other annual Awards winners

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