Adam Yates was awarded Cycling Weekly's Male Rider of the Year for 2023. This exclusive interview originally appeared in the magazine on 7 December. Subscribe now and never miss an issue in 2024.
Wandering through the paddock of stage two of the Tour de France, in a utilitarian car park on the edge of Vitoria-Gasteiz, there was one thing wearing a yellow jersey which everyone was interested in, more than any other.
It was not Adam Yates, the holder of the maillot jaune after his stage one heroics in Bilbao, but his dog. Zoe, his samoyed, was taking all the attention outside the UAE Team Emirates bus and in the paddock, ably marshalled by Yates’ then fiancée, Lisa. The day before, Zoe’s owner had done what only three British riders had ever done before, and won the opening stage of the Tour de France, and the first yellow jersey as a result.
Yates is not one for attention or adulation, so it helped having a white cloud of a dog present to distract on that Sunday morning.
“I'm not too bothered by it all, I get on with the job,” he tells Cycling Weekly in October. “I know what I'm there for, I'm not great with the media stuff, so I just try and keep it as minimal as possible. Then I just do my job, to ride my bike, which I'm not too bad at.”
However, his achievements should not be glossed over. Great Britain’s achievements in the Tour might not have been anything particularly special until the last decade, but Yates’ time in the race lead in July meant that he is now the Briton with the fourth-longest time in the yellow jersey, with eight days. Add to this the fact that he is just the fourth British rider to ever finish on the podium - Yates ended up finishing third in Paris - and it was an incredible summer for the 31-year-old from Bury.
His opening stage win, where he broke away from the elite group in Bilbao with his twin brother Simon, is one for the history books too, one which Adam described as “super nice” for his parents, who were there.
“The first stage in the Tour is pretty hard to win, as is any stage really, but the first one especially,” he explains. “I know how hard it is, to manage to win that, it was a really good start. I don't know what to say really, it was nice.
“It's pretty rare that we come 1-2 in any race, let alone stage one of the Tour. I was super happy to share that experience.”
In fact, it was probably Yates best year in professional cycling to date, in his tenth year in the peloton. Alongside the stage win and podium finish at the Tour, there was a stage win at the UAE Tour, a stage win and the overall at the Tour de Romandie, second place overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and finally a win at the Grand Prix du Montréal.
“It's been good,” Yates says. “I like to rate seasons on wins, and I had five wins, I think, in 2019, and I got five this year. It was an equal amount, but I guess the level has been a little higher. It's been good. I've not really had any bad races, I've been consistent throughout the whole year, which is something I've been working through some past years. Super happy with that, I've worked pretty hard on that.”
From the outside, there were not many big changes in Yates’ approach to racing this year, but the big shift has to be his move from Ineos Grenadiers to UAE Team Emirates. As his former team perhaps missed the consistency of his riding this year, both in general classification and super domestique terms, Yates was riding high in new colours.
“It's not been easy,” he says, though. “Every year, I'm getting better and better, but so is everyone else, the level is getting super high. Especially this year the level has been a bit crazy.”
“Every race I've been to has been an enjoyable experience,” he continues. “Everyone is nice and friendly, and get on. We've got a lot of big riders, a lot of strong riders on the team. Sometimes it's not easy to figure out the tactics, but in the end we just want to win.
“I've not raced so much with Tadej [Pogačar], only really at the Tour. He's super easy to work with, for me he's the best bike rider in the world. We turn up, we set a super high pace, and nine times out of ten he finishes the job for us. It's quite enjoyable.”
That’s the biggest difference between Ineos and UAE at the moment, the fact that Yates’ new team has a generational cycling talent, already one of the greatest riders in the history of the sport, while his former employers do not.
However, despite this, and despite Yates’ opening stage win and all that seemed to herald back at the beginning of July, the team failed in their biggest goal of the year, winning the Tour de France. The title instead went to Jonas Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma. A few months on though, Yates seems pretty sanguine:
“We didn't win, but at the end of the day there was only one guy that was stronger than us,” he explains. “We had two guys on the podium, the white jersey with Tadej, and three stage wins between us. Also, we had a really good time while doing it. Even if we had a bad day, we lost a bit of time, we were still laughing and joking around the dinner table.
“Even though we didn't win, we had fun, and already, a lot of us know that we will be going next year and we're motivated to win, to go one step further.”
For the man from Bury, the biggest difference was not necessarily the change of teams, but just a change in fortune.
“One of the main things has been not getting sick or injured as much,” Yates says. “Especially last year, I was sick a lot of the time. I came into a race after some illness, or I'd have some illness, or an injury.
“This year, I've arrived at the races in good condition. I've also not had anything go wrong, which is the main thing. I've had some bad luck over the years and this year everything has slotted into place and worked. I'm super grateful for that, and hopefully I can do the same next year.”
Yates might not have been ill or injured in 2023, but he has also benefited from a team which seems to be better organised, and has slotted him into the plan seamlessly. They have also backed him. In the run up to this year’s Tour the UAE team management were insisting that Yates and Pogačar were co-leaders, despite Yates repeatedly saying that he was there to work for the “best bike rider in the world”.
“Last year, already in November/December, the team was already asking me about what I wanted to do, and what would work for me,” Yates says. “They had a plan throughout the season, with a flow. That works really well, because then you have a plan and a goal. Of course, things can change, but you then have something to build to, you have something to work towards. That's quite motivating for me.”
Yates turned 31 in August, a fact which can seem hard to compute. Is he not still the baby-faced rider who won the Tour’s youth classification in 2016? Is it really three years since he rode for what was then Mitchelton-Scott? Did he really spend two years at Ineos Grenadiers? Two years?
2023 marked Yates’ 10th year in the peloton, but he refuses to reflect on what he might have changed, given a time machine. “You can't change the past,” he argues.
Time marches on for us all, and Yates is no exception. He seems to have found a good place, and a good role at UAE, and is forging a different career to his twin brother, who has remained at what is now Jayco-AlUla. Despite this, it still seems hard to separate the pair; they didn’t make it easy for everyone else with their 1-2 on stage one of the Tour. One of the most popular Instagram reels from the Tour was the pair climbing almost exactly in time together. It is hard to make a clean break from your twin.
One thing is for certain though, Adam Yates had an electric 2023, and will look to power on, furrow his own course in 2024 and beyond. And don’t worry, Zoe the samoyed was rewarded for her starring role: she got to rip the toy lion given to every yellow jersey wearer to shreds. A just prize.
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