Australian team Orica-GreenEdge is giving the 22-year-old Englishman his chance in WorldTour races against cycling’s biggest names. Instead of shying away, Yates is taking the opportunity head on.
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“Look at the past winners in Romandie, Chris Froome‘s won it the last two years, and the people who’ve been up there are the best sort of climbers,” Yates told Cycling Weekly.
“They way I look at it… The more that I’m exposed to these races and these guys, the more I learn how to race. The more time I can spend looking at how the top guys race and how these races pan out, that’s better for me in the long term.”
In the short time since turning professional with Orica last season, Yates has come a long way. He made his debut in the 2014 Tour de France and progressed enough to score a fifth place in last week’s Tour of the Basque Country.
In Spain, he raced among the stars. Spaniard Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), who counts four podium finishes in grand tours, won the overall. Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar), winner of the 2014 Giro d’Italia and second in the 2013 Tour, placed fourth. Behind Yates were world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).
Orica’s sports director, Matt White explained the resent result showed that Yates can win in the upcoming races. He has three races on his radar before a break: La Flèche Wallonne tomorrow, Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday and the six-day Swiss race, the Tour de Romandie at the end of April.
“I feel like I’m going well. It’s the same as last year at this point in time, though, and I didn’t even make the front group in Flèche,” Yates added.
“It’s always hard to say. I feel well, I’m going really well in training, I had my best overall result as a professional in Basque… I have confidence, but you never really know going into these races. They’re so different because they are one-day events. A lot can happen.”
Twin brother Adam Yates crashed and fractured his finger in the first stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. Orica gave Simon the chance to lead the team and defend Adam’s Tour of Turkey title, but Simon shook his head and said “no.” He wants his opportunity to win a WorldTour race.
“You need to go into the races in that frame of mind. If you go into it thinking of a top 10, then you’d always be happy with that. If I say that I want a stage win or want to be up there overall, that’s better than saying I’d be happy with a top 10 or 20.
“You got to have enthusiasm. The sport’s pretty hard if you go into the races looking to just get around.”
Comprehensive look ahead to the 2015 Fleche Wallonne (Wednesday, April 22): Route, contenders, teams, TV and more
The 205.5-kilometre Flèche Wallonne ends with a 1.3-kilometre climb up the “Mur” or “Wall” in Huy, in southern Belgium. Last year, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won. Rodríguez won in 2012 and Australian Cadel Evans in 2010.
A British rider has never won in the race’s 78 editions. Tom Simpson came the closest in 1965, finishing third behind Italians Roberto Poggiali and Felice Gimondi.
“I remember watching these races growing up. I remember watching Flèche Wallonne every year, the only classic that finishes up a climb,” Yates said.
“It always appealed to me. I don’t know why. It’s more that it’s the uphill finish, how many classics have that? When I was younger, I loved watching the explosive riders, and how they’d win in Flèche Wallonne. That was it for me, not the race, but the riders who won the race.”