Feature Interview: Sean Yates


Talking to Sean Yates, a legend on and off the bike and now back at trainSharp after his time at Tinkoff with Contador and Sagan in 2016

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Feature Interview: Sean Yates

Sean Yates is quite a legend in the sport of cycling. We are the same age (he’s actually younger by six days LoL) but yet it is surreal to know and be writing about Sean because when I was a young rider, I was reading about him from the other side of the world and he was already making it big in the sport and seemed older!


As a young rider, he was racing with other legends in time trialling like Eddie Adkins and others and then continued to move up in the cycling world as a pro in Europe, all the way to winning a stage in the Tour de France (the fastest ever TT at that time) and wearing the Yellow jersey. And yet Sean admits that he didn’t fulfil the talent he had for a long while and a lot of that is down to a lack of insight into how training properly could have made him even better!

Which is why Sean is such a valued member of the team at Trainsharp because not only does he have unrivaled experience as a director sportif and before that a rider, he also has so much experience dealing with riders, stars and water carriers alike, that it is actually quite surreal that riders with ambition can utilise that experience by having him, and the others at Trainsharp, coach them.

Quite annoying actually because if I was a young rider starting out now, I’m sure I too would have trained a whole lot different and better with him on my side than I did when I was racing back in Australia! But alas, none of us can turn the clock back but we can enjoy the memories of a career in the great sport of cycling.

After speaking to Sean for a good hour on the phone, the first thing I had to do was buy his book, ‘It’s all about the Bike’ and for sure, without having even looked at the book, I knew that was an apt title for it because Sean is, as he admits, obsessed by the sport and its part of his fabric in every way.

One of the first stats that came out was that he’s done around 21 Tours de Frances as a rider and DS and so many other races that even he doesn’t know just how valuable the experience he has until he’s at a race and is able to pull bits of that experience out to help him with a challenging situation in a race or with a rider.

Experience not just in grass roots time trials which he still does, or lower category road races, which again he’s done and helped others in, but in 2016 was at the coal face advising the likes of Alberto Contador and World Champion (and double world champ now) Peter Sagan at Tinkoff.

That team unfortunately had the plug pulled by the boss Oleg and Sean is not the only one at the team who is disappointed to see a team that has been around a long time, disappear from the sport.

“The fact the team had been going for 15 years or so, closes completely; that doesn’t happen every day as teams generally continue on in various guises so the team finishing was quite strange for everybody.”

“Some people had been there for a long time and I’d been there before and come back so it was sad especially as we had a good year and it was a great team with the world champion Peter. If the team had continued, I would have stayed on for sure.”

“It was similar to what happened at Motorola. They couldn’t find replacement sponsors and everyone went their separate ways. That was the end of my career as a cyclist (1996) even though I had already planned to stop that year. Some guys though had only just started and had to find new teams so it was quite emotional. But life goes on!”

It does indeed and as already mentioned, Sean is now back coaching at Trainsharp, bringing all that knowledge to the beck and call of his clients.

On being a DS and coach at all levels is something that Sean admits is the perfect fit for him and is not really work. Talking about his work at Tinkoff, he admits “it’s not really work, roaming around the world having fun. Yes, the days are long but when you have been doing it for thirty years, in various guises, it comes easy and is a way of life. It isn’t suited to everyone having to live out of a suitcase but for me I find it easy”.


What I was curious to know was his work with Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan at a race like the Tour de France. “It was always going to be a challenge having those in the same team but you could never leave either one of them at home when it came to the Tour de France” Sean explains.

“Up until that point, in general, we kept the race programmes separate. The fact we had a guy who could win the Tour de France, and a guy who was pretty much assured to win stages and the Green jersey, we had to take them both.”

“The challenge was having the right mix of people to help those individuals. In theory, you need more guys to win GC than win a stage so that meant the team was more weighted towards Alberto’s direction.”

“Maybe not as much as he wanted because in general, the GC guy usually has the backing of the whole team. But we had Peter who did what he had to do and helped when he could and we saw him do that on numerous occasions. At the same time we had to have a few guys to help him achieve his goals and the fact he was pretty assured of achieving his goals, meant you could not have the guys there to help him”.

Sagan is of course the sports most popular individual, full of character and mischief and not only entertains with the manner of his victories, but his antics on and off the bike away from the finish line. For Sean having to help and guide him in races, working with Peter came easy.

“Peter is a dream to work with, an absolute dream” Sean explains. “For one of the top guys in the sport, he is exceptionally easy going. He is superior physically to most of the other riders and we have seen that by the amount of wins that he has and the manner in which he wins races.”

Working with Peter when he wore yellow was also a major highlight of the season for Sean. “It was nip and tuck all the way to the finish line” says Sean of Sagan’s win on top of the short Cote de la Glacerie. It was Sagan’s fifth stage victory at the Tour de France and resulted in him wearing the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.

“On paper he was by far the favourite to win that stage but it wasn’t the first time he was favourite and hasn’t won. The year before at Le Havre, the finish was made for him but Stybar jumped away. This year’s was much harder and I thought if he doesn’t win here … We set out to win that stage and take the jersey and we did that”.

A lot of that victory came down to the team doing their home work and that meant Sean looking at the finishes in detail. “Every stage that looks a bit tricky that I don’t know, or we don’t know as a team, I always do recons and have done since my Team Sky days.”

“Alpine stages are all pretty similar and we do the same climbs year in year out but a lot of the other stages, there are the crosswinds like the Belgian stages which Steven de Jongh recced and we make notes and videos, and know exactly where the race goes so we can give that to the riders. We do a lot of recons which helps because the riders then have confidence we know where they are going”.

That level of detail is something that carries over into Sean’s coaching of riders, both in teams he works for or at trainSharp. “Coaching the pros is a bit different to club riders in that they race much more and the training is a minor part of their schedule. It’s more about recovery and being ready to race when the race comes.”


And when it came to race strategies, in the team, there was no shortage of experience to call upon at key moments in races. “The vast majority of time this year I was with Steven de Jong who was the head DS and we always rode together in team car number 1 and two heads are better than one. Steven liked the fact I had a lot of experience in stage races and how things pan out and that gave us more confidence on how to deal with the situations that were thrown at us”.

Sean’s experience comes from his racing days with the best teams in the world and then as a DS, again with the teams at the top of the sport. The fact Sean had been a rider meant that his riders respected him as they knew he had suffered as a rider and seen the highs and lows.

A look at the back of his book and it doesn’t take long to see just how good Sean was on a bike. He broke the 10 mile comp record in 1979 not just once but twice in the one day! In 1980, he won the 25, his first big victory and as a pro, he also had many a great triumph even though he enjoyed being a ‘super domestique’.

He had the leaders jersey in Paris-Nice in 1988 and won a stage in the Tour of Spain the same year and even better, the time trial stage in the Tour de France. He also wore the yellow jersey in 1994 in the sports biggest Grand Tour and in that same year, was 5th in Paris-Roubaix in diabolical conditions which he loved racing in!

Now he’s back at trainSharp to coach riders and help them fulfil their potential. So much as changed in coaching over the years, Sean more than most realises the significance of good coaching.

We take granted these days that training with ‘power’ (power meters) can help with a riders training and racing and Sean recalled that in the early 80’s before he signed for Peugeot, he went to Germany for a ramp test.

“It was a ramp test and I finished it by completing 550 watts for 2.5 mins which meant I failed to complete the full 3 mins and therefore move up to the 600 watt mark. There was an article in l’Equipe about how they hadn’t measured anyone as strong as me apart from Eddy Merckx. I was 88 kilos however in those days and this was before we knew about the significance of watts per kilo which we do now. Power is one thing but if you weigh 120kilos you will have good power but not go up hill fast!!

Sean adds that “If I knew then what I know now, I’d have had a better career as the first ten years I pretty much wasted it! I loved racing the classics like the Tour of Flanders but they were too early in the season as I never trained properly in the winter”.

“I was riding the lanes in Sussex and didn’t have the top end power for the short bergs where I was going over my threshold for two three minutes again and again and always suffered. Paris-Roubaix was better for me because it requires constant power so that suited me a lot more”.

“I found I always went better at the end of the season which should have told me I needed to train harder in the winter!”

Hence why Sean realises the significance of good coaching and helping riders not just with their numbers but so much more that all goes into affecting a rider’s performance in races.

“My philosophy in coaching riders with trainSharp is for them to know that getting the best from them is important to me and trainSharp and know they aren’t a number in a book. They are a person who is trying to achieve the best they can with what they have got”.

“Some may feel I won’t respect them because I was a big rider but that isn’t the case. No matter what the ability they have, I’m going to give them my best to help them fulfil their potential. Be the best they can possibly be in their situation and whatever the limitations.”

Whilst Sean has spent many years working as a DS with teams, he’s also been with trainSharp since the beginning. “It seems like yesterday that Jon was working at Eastbourne college coaching a few guys on the side and I was doing a similar thing when a DS which is quite a long time ago now!”

“Technology has moved on, training applications are moving on, and you need to stay ahead of the game and be looking to improve things which Jon is great at”.

Asked what his strength is as a coach, Sean replies “I’m able to put myself in their shoes and their situation. I have gone from a point on a bike when I could smash anyone to where I am now pretty weak!!”

“So I can put myself in their shoes and know what I’d do if I was them feeling tired or stressed etc. That is the key to getting the best out of them both physically and mentally. It isn’t just about much training you do. Having worked with so many great riders and world tour teams, I have a unique skill to help me look after riders which is experience I bring to every coach at trainSharp.

“I may not be the most technical guy but that’s actually a good thing too as we have the sports scientists here at trainSharp and I have the experience so we cover all the bases”.

Thanks to Sean for his time. For further information on contacting Sean at trainSharp, click here




Send your results as well as club, team & event news here


Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK

Tags: ,