For some riders, it’s a big result in the under-23 categories that gives them a reputation when they turn professional. Others may be prominent on social media.
But for Adam Yates, it’s a quote given at the end of 2014 that had so far defined his time since turning pro. “If I went to Sky then I’d end up working on the front like a slave, and I’m not a big fan of that,” he told Cycling Weekly upon signing for Orica-GreenEdge for 2014.
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However, his defining moment changed today, as the 22-year-old from Bury placed seventh on the first summit finish of his debut Tour de France. With Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, Yates was one of three Brits in the first seven atop the ski station at Le Pierre-Saint Martin. But it’s a performance that shouldn’t surprise anybody.
First, there’s his vital statistics: he weighs around 59 kilograms and measures five-foot-six, perfect attributes for a climber.
Second, he has history on such terrain. Two years ago, he finished second in the Tour de l’Avenir, an under-23 stage race in France long-considered a good indicator of future talents. It was the best British performance in the race since Robert Millar also finished runner-up, in 1982.
“The last couple of stages were savage and you needed to be a decent climber to get results there,” said Keith Lambert, who managed the Great Britain team in the race.
Adam’s twin brother Simon developed through British Cycling’s Olympic Academy Programme, most notably winning the points race at the Track World Championships in 2013. Adam’s application, however, was rejected; in hindsight, he admitted that he didn’t have the results to warrant a place on the programme.
Instead, with the help of the Dave Rayner Fund, Yates spent three-and-a-half years living in France. After riding for UVCA Troyes, he joined CC Etupes, from whom last year’s Tour podium finisher Thibaut Pinot and Giant-Alpecin’s Warren Barguil have also graduated to the WorldTour, in 2013.
It was with Etupes that he began to work on the climbing ability that served him so well in the Pyrenean heat this afternoon — helped in part by being based near useful training terrain on the French-Swiss border.
“Two years ago, I didn’t really specialise in anything,” he admitted at the time. “But this year I really trained for it [being a climber] and I guess it shows. That’s what I’m best at.
Despite his Avenir performance, the story goes that Team Sky were keen to sign Simon, but not Adam, for 2014. “We know this team looks after the young guys very well,” he said when they signed for Orica. “The best options were the ones from teams that were keen on us both.”
Yates is right to say that under-23 racing didn’t suit him. It’s easy to see where he’s coming from; most races are aggressive and less-controlled, few events tackle the really challenging climbs, and riders are almost duty bound to be jacks of all trades in the hunt for professional contracts. (For example, Tour top-10 finisher Jurgen Van Den Broeck was a former under-23 world time trial champion, but has forged his professional career on being a climber).
Conversely, the step-up to WorldTour level has suited him greatly. His characteristics and attributes have been honed, and Orica have wisely given him a programme that on the whole suits him. For example, tasked with leading Orica’s hunt for stage wins at the 2014 Tour of Turkey, so good was his performance on the race’s queen stage to Selcuk that it won him the race overall.
“This shows what we already knew: Adam has great potential,” declared Orica’s DS Laurenzo Lapage after the race. “For a 21-year-old, Adam is really mature. We don’t put any pressure on our young guys, but we know that they put the pressure [on themselves] – and he handles it very well.”
Yates’s performance today at the sport’s biggest race suggests Lapage’s words still ring true. “I thought at the beginning of this Tour that a stage win was always possible,” said Yates after the stage. “I’ve shown in the past that I can climb with some of the best guys in world when I’m on a good day, it’s just that the Tour de France is another step up. We’ll try again another day.”