How I dropped the weight and won a Tour de France time trial

Our new Lifetime Achievement award winner Sean Yates reveals how a move to Nice in the south of France helped lift his career to the next level

Lifetime Achievement
(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 three: how I dropped the weight and won a Tour time trial

Sean Yates became well known as the best domestique 'de luxe' in the business during his career, helping to shepherd countless team leaders to wins and high placings. However, every now and then he enjoyed a moment in the spotlight himself. In part three of our interview he explains how after moving to Nice, he managed to shift a few kilos and win a time trial in the Tour de France.

"I moved out of Peugeot because I wasn't sure that they were going to renew my contract, and I got an offer from [another French team] Fagor. It was Jean-René Bernaudeau, a former Peugeot teammate, now the manager of TotalEnergies, who got me in.

"Initially, they didn't want me. But he convinced them and I went there.

"I started to ride better, and I lost the weight. I did put loads of weight on when I moved to France initially [six years before] and it took me years to shift it, or realise that you know, being lighter was better.

"It was too much food basically. Part of the problem was that I was a vegetarian until I was 20, I used to do loads of press-ups and sit-ups. And I suddenly started eating meat, more protein, and I pumped up. Basically I put on eight, nine kilos, which is a lot. But it wasn't like I suddenly became fat. I just got much more muscular.

"It was great for flat – not a problem, but as soon as we went uphill obviously I suffered more than I needed to. So in the late '80s, I understood that I need to be lighter. And moving to Nice was great because the weather was perfect, loads of climbing. Basically I lived in an apartment, I had nothing in the fridge apart from oats, which I used to have for breakfast, so I just lived on a day-to-day basis really, so I didn't tempt myself, I couldn't suddenly be stuffing my face. I realised that yeah, I needed to be really serious. And I could survive on less food, it was just a question of becoming accustomed to it."

'A few good days'

It might have been handy if the team had its own nutritionist and chef, as is the norm today. But back in the late 1980s, no such thing existed, reflects Yates.

"There was nothing. We had no power meter, no nutritionist, no one giving any advice. It was OK because, you know, the type of rider I was, I wasn't wanting to win the Tour de France, or able to win a Tour de France, or be a magnificent climber. I was just a rouleur, a team helper… though I had a few good days here and there. That allowed me to get some good results, you know, and that's the way I always was."

One of those 'few good days' came in the 1988 Tour de France. Stage six to Wasquehal in northern France was a time trial. It suited Yates and he was ready for it.

"I knew I was in form. 1988 was one of my best years. I had wins in Paris-Nice, took the jersey [he won stage one and held yellow for three days], a win in Midi-Libre... Plus I lived two years up there around that area in Lille – one year with Paul Sherwen and another year with Dag Otto Lauritzen, and so I knew the area well.

"I was motivated that day and I made sure I had a '54' [chainring] on and this, that and the other. There was a stronger tailwind for me as an early starter than there was for the later starters, so I certainly had a bit of an advantage there, but I was on a good day. Everything just fell into place and yeah, obviously to win a stage in the Tour, win a time trial in the Tour, was really a dream come true for a time triallist."

* See this week's Cycling Weekly magazine for details of all our Annual Awards winners

More from this interview with Sean Yates:
Part one: how overtraining nearly finished my career just as it was getting started
Part two: how I got the nickname 'Animal'

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