Feature - Sean Yates Talks Bike Racing


With Sean Yate’s son Jesse going to France thanks to the same man Tony Mills who helped him go there, – Jean Vantalon talks to them both

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Feature - Sean Yates Talks Bike Racing

by Jean Vantalon

Classe-jes-480x480Jesse Yates starts a new adventure with Hennebont Cycling in 2016. Leaving the Junior ranks behind, Jesse admits he has never raced in France. “My father was helped by Tony Mills when he was young, before turning professional. Now Tony continues the tradition by helping me too. I hope I will be up to it”.

“I feel very good and the legs are there. The training camp in Calpe has really been beneficial and I début next weekend with the team. I do not speak French yet but I know what to do and I cannot wait to meet my teammates who have started the season well.”

Jesse is the son of one of the greatest warriors of cycling Britain has produced, Sean Yates, a DS at Tinkoff these days. A master against the clock and winner of epic stages in the 1988 Tour de France, the same grand tour where he wore the yellow jersey in 1994. His wins also include a stage in the Vuelta, Paris- Nice, Tour of Belgium and podium in the Dauphiné Libéré.

That all followed a little help from a man called Tony Mills. In a bike shop” called “Emperor Sports (referring to ‘The emperor’ Rick Van Looy), many many years ago, Sean met the owner of the place, a certain Tony Mills, who was himself once a professional bike rider. They have a friendship that still lasts to this day.


Jean asks, Sean Yates, how did you get into the world of cycling?
Sean Yates: Phew! In my time, there was no TV or all this stuff we have now. So we lived out in the street or in the nearby forest to play with friends. It was England in the 70s, another era!

One day I found an old bike whilst hanging out with my friends. My brother Chris and I, we began to ride and the distances were increasing day by day to the point we thought we would ride all the way to the seaside.

Talking about his early races, Sean says “I was winning all the time and was able to build myself a nice pot to pay for my first real bike from Tony Mills. Then I wrote to Val Baxendine for him to take me to his club, East Grinstead CC. I did my first race with a track jacket with a zipper that was broken, trousers tucked into my socks, which were for their part in trainers (laughs).

In 1978, I did my first time trial, a 10, and I won with a time of 24 minutes. Then later in the year, I won the title Champion of Great Britain as a junior with a time of 55mins for the 25 miles. I finally had my name in the magazine “Cycling” even if it was not well written (laughs).”


In 1980 you go to France and you do the Grand Prix of France …
Sean: “Yes. Tony Mills pushed me to go to France. He financed my trip and everything else so that I can measure myself against the best of the time. I owe him a lot. Without him I would not have been there.

I still remember Albert Bouvet coming to get me at the airport for my first time in France, a great man. I arrived at the 1980 GP of Nations and I was sixth behind winner Julian Gorospe, Roche and Simon. Then in the GP of France TT in Saint-Tropez, I’m second behind Roche. I was even leading mid race.

I remember it very well. Later in the evening, Stephen comes to see me at the hotel and wonders if I would be interested to come to his team of AC Boulogne Billancourt. Two weeks, later I joined John Herety and Stephen Roche. That’s how I got to Peugeot thereafter.”

And began a successful career. What wins do you remember most?
Sean; “There’s not any one in particular as all the victories have left their mark on me. They are all good memories. It is true that to win a stage on the Tour de France in 1988 and wear the yellow jersey in 1994 were enormous moments but all wins are beautiful memories. I was not a climber, I could not be a player in the mountains but I fought hard in the time trials or the conventional stages.”


Are you still racing?
Sean: “No, but I continued long after I stopped in the pro ranks. I love to compete and win. So I continued as a veteran. I became World Champion on the track in the Pursuit in 2000 for example. In 2006, I even beat the distance record for the tandem 12 hour of 487 km. I always liked challenges and the spirit of competition. Unfortunately, in 2009, the doctors detected heart problems and I had to put a stop to the intense efforts.”


What do you think of the development of cycling?
Sean: “It’s great to see all these young people racing. It is part of the booming popularity of cycling but paradoxically, there are fewer and fewer races for our youngsters. For various reasons such as safety.

In my day, we could run the race without paying the police for our safety. Now it takes a lot because there are more and more cars on the road and it is seriously expensive. It can be most of the budget for a race. It’s Russian roulette on British roads. I remember in my day, we got up early to take over a route for the race. Now it is unthinkable, there are ten thousand vehicles who spend every day on the same road and there is no way to close it for a race.

Then there is another problem. A lot of people, 30-40 years old, will train on the roads but not the young. Parents fear for their children, because you often come across idiots who will turn into you during training. It gets crazy to ride in England. While in Brittany it’s simpler. When I go there, I ride for kilometres without seeing a car. In addition, there is a real cycling culture which is beautiful.”


So your son Jesse joined Hennebont Cycling this season?
Sean “Yes, Tony Mills is the man behind this. He did with Jesse what he did with me, and that’s really what he did for us. And I know Cédric Le Ny, manager of Hennebont, and he is passionate about youth.

So to train in Brittany is great and the higher the level of racing is very good too. He (Jesse) will not be alone, the Irish will be with him in Hennebont. It will be a great experience for him and I will see his first races if the timing of Team Tinkoff allows me. ”


Regarding team Tinkoff, and the Tour de France. Do you think of victory in 2016?
Sean: “Yes, let’s go for it. This year the focus is on the Tour de France with Alberto Contador. Last year, he was really tired on the Tour. Maybe the Giro was too much. This season he will skip the Giro and he will be ready and fit for the Tour de France.

Especially since it will be the last for Oleg Tinkoff. It would be good to give him the Tour he has never won with his team, to repay him for all he has done for us. Sky are not unbeatable and Mont Ventoux can do a lot of damage if you are not on top that day, more than Alpe d’Huez.”



It is 31 years since the French have won the Tour de France – Your thoughts?
Sean: “31 years? Already? Bernard won it 31 years ago? Phew! I’m old then (laughs)! The French have had the best like Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon. It’s rare to come across champions like that. They had the mentality of champions, they had this fire in them. They came to win.

Now it’s different, you have beautiful champions but do they really have this rage shouting “I will win”? I do not know. It’s good to have teams of pros in this country but now no country can win the Tour with just home riders.

It takes the best World team to win the Tour de France, period. This is the World Tour; you have to have the best riders in a team whether they are French, English, Spanish or Croatian; who cares, you need the best.

It’s like in football. You think Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona and PSG just have players that come from home? No, they have the best, that’s all. This is the globalisation of sport, like it or not, it is business. It requires large budgets for the best riders. To win the Tour de France, you have to have the best team in the World. I think if Bernard Hinault was a rider now, he would be in a foreign team because he thought only of victory. He needed the best around him and he had the need to win!

To return to the French riders, they rarely go to foreign teams. In France, they are comfortable in their team. And the French do not like the changes that cycling is going through now. I remember a television host that you had in the 70s, I watched when I was in France and 40 years later, I still see on television the same kind of show (laughs)! This is your culture, I love it too!

A rider that goes to a foreign team has to adapt to the language, lifestyle, culture as I did and so many others. It makes a man that! You have beautiful champions but not a Fignon or Hinault among them. They were outstanding! I repeat: to win the Tour de France, you have to have the best team in the World!”
Article adapted from one in French.


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