Interview with British Pro Legend Sean Yates

At the London Bike Show, VeloUK spoke with former yellow jersey in the Tour de France, Sean Yates about how an electric powered Ribble eBike has given his riding a new lease of life

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Interview with British Pro Legend Sean Yates

Sean Yates is one of the country’s all time greats, both as a rider in the WorldTour peloton and as a DS in the car helping riders win races like the Tour de France. A Tour de France stage winner and yellow jersey, British Road Race champion, second Gent Wevelgem, Winner of the Tour of Belgium, stage winner in the Milk Race, Stage winner Paris-Nice and Dauphine Libre and 5th in Paris Roubaix; the list of achievements for Sean is long and illustrious.

Pic: Getty Images

Sean now though, suffers from a heart problem and that limits the amount of watts he can pedal a bike at as well as his recovery from the efforts on a bike. Enter the eBike from Ribble, the Endurance SLe. The racy looking road bike hides the fact it’s an e-bike well with the motor in the rear wheel and when activated, the electric motor can provide as much as an extra 250 watts.

– Electric: The ebikemotion X35 motor hub drive system with 3 power settings up to 250W and easy to use integrated button, no handlebar accessories required.
– 250Wh internal battery, with the option to increase to 750Wh with additional batteries.
– Full internal cabling routing between switch, battery and motor.
– Bluetooth connectivity with system specific App for system, ride, GPS, performance functionality and information.

But what’s it like to ride and who better to tell us that the former yellow jersey in the Tour de France? For a long time, most commercially available e-bikes were mountain bikes and finding a road bike that would ‘ride’ the same as a normal race bike was hard to come by.

Sean in his role as a DS for Sky and Bradley Wiggins

Anyone who has ridden the mountain roads near Calpe will know the challenges that Sean Yates faces with climbs as long as 15 kilometres close to his new home. The difference an eBike has made to his riding is huge. “My last ride on a normal road bike was a five hour torture session with another guy” Sean explained.

“With my medical issues slowing me down, it’s inconvenient for others when we ride together as they have to ride slower than they can do and you do feel like you are inconveniencing them and you go out having to try really hard so as to not slow them down.”

The eBike has helped change this for Sean. For example, Sean was able to go riding with son Jesse (who raced Klondike GP last Sunday) and Liam and when the roads got very mountainous, he was able to ride with them without putting himself into a box. In fact, being still competitive, one gets the feeling it was the other way round with Sean trying to put them into one LoL.

Sean explained how the button on the top tube of his Ribble eBike gives him three levels of assistance and the only down side to the system on all eBikes is that by law it’s limited to 25kph which means when you are on the flat, and riding in a group travelling above that, you need to power the bike yourself as the assistance is only available at or below 25kph.

That however is a minor issue especially when riding on your own because it’s on the climbs where a rider can really struggle and that is where the motor on the Ribble eBike provides the most help. Better still though is the bike handles like a race bike too and Sean explained it handles as good on the mountain descents as any bike he has like his Pinarello’s for example.

“The bike handles amazing on the downhills, it’s fantastic and I have set some PBs and stravas on it” Sean explained after telling me how as a professional, descending was one of his strengths.

As an example of how the Ribble eBike could have helped him one day in the mountains, Sean recalled the time during the winter when cycling star Mathieu van der Poel passed him on a mountain climb on a day when Sean wasn’t feeling great. He shouted to Mathieu to say hello and got a wave back but admits if he’d had the eBike, he’d have been able to ride alongside Mathieu and chat to him about his days when he raced with his dad.

That’s because if Sean is producing 150 watts on the climb and then adds 150 watts from the eBike, suddenly he’s climbing with 300 watts which as Sean says is quite respectable to have for a long mountain climb.

It could not be simpler riding the eBike says Sean . “You select your level of assistance (1-2-3) and start pedalling.”

For Sean, having the assistance doesn’t mean he isn’t pushing the pedals hard though. “I still try hard, even though I have this assistance because I like to push myself. You don’t have to thrash yourself like I can back off but for me, when you are used to pushing the pedals as hard as you can, it’s hard to change the way you are. They say you’re supposed to take it easy on an e-bike but when I come back, I’m in pieces!”

The amount of battery life a rider gets varies says Sean and depends on lots of factors like the level of assistance chosen, the weight of the rider, the terrain the rider is riding over and more. Being able to add more batteries to the system helps when riders are going for long long rides and they are going to need that assistance when the body is at its weakest; the end of the ride.

Sean and the Classics
When we spoke, the Classics like Flanders were kicking off and I had to ask Sean, who still loves to watch these races on the television, what is his favourite classic?

“Flanders has to be because there are so many things that can affect the race” Sean replied. “The final of Milan-San Remo is exciting but before that you have 250km of boring racing where as in Flanders, things can happen quickly”.

“The same in Paris-Roubaix as well like Peter Sagan attacking a long way out and things like that. In these races, teams are compromised and they only need to have a couple of punctures or crashes and they can be down to two or three riders and the control goes from the races and riders are thinking what do we do now? It makes the races so much more exciting.”

Sean signing autographs at the London Bike Show on the Ribble Cycles stand

I then asked him with his DS head on, how do the big stars ride these races and still have the legs at the end to attack, attack, attack? “If you’re a guy with a chance of winning a race, you want to save as much as you can and not ride in the wind and not make any unnecessary efforts because at the end of the day, doing that will chip away at what they have for the final. Any energy saved is going to help a rider in the final”.

“Which is why some riders are better than others in the final because they can hide from the wind better. For team leaders, it’s their job to stay on the wheel of the guy there to protect them, which is why Chris Froome is so good because he is in the right place at the right time. He’s not a cross wind specialist by any stretch of the imagination but when there is one, he’s there.”

One talking point in the classics is that the weather seems so much better these days except for the odd day like Milan San Remo a few years ago. Chatting to Sean he says they are more likely to get sunburnt these days and the weather certainly affects the outcome of the races.

Asking Sean what the worse weather he encountered in a race was he replied “1994 Paris-Roubaix. It was snowing at the start and when you are younger, you don’t feel the cold as much as when you’re older but I had a special mountaineers fleece underneath which I ripped off at one point.”

“From a spectators point of view, we want to see crap weather because it leads to an exciting race, a harder race for sure. Bad weather does separate the men from the boys because of the bike handling. Like in Paris-Roubaix, there is a whole world of difference to riding on cobbles when dry than when it’s wet and horrible”.

“On a Tour stage on the cobbles a few years ago, it was wet and there were a lot of crashes which adds a whole new level of excitement to a race and the challenges in it. I always remember, when I came fifth in Roubaix (1994), we would come hurtling into the sectors and there were guys everywhere and I was thinking ‘there are only ten guys in this bike race who can handle their bikes properly’. That meant I had to be careful never to drop back further than that because someone was going to mess up and I’ll get flicked.”

World Tour Riders versus Domestic Ones
Finally, it is a subject that we talk about a lot; British riders looking to move to World Tour from the domestic scene. So I asked Sean, what is the difference between a WorldTour rider and a domestic one?

Sean with son Jesse

“You have to know how win races at this level and at WorldTour level and if you get the right break, you can make a name for yourself and get a pro contract like Harry Tanfield and James Knox. What separates a WorldTour rider from a domestic one is the ability to produce the same amount of power after five hours of racing they can after five minutes of racing”.

“The best of the best, like Peter Sagan, is not about them producing a load more watts but he is best at producing those watts after five or six hours slightly better than his rivals. They can all do the same watts after one hour, but as every hour goes past, riders below him are producing slightly less watts which is why the World Championships should be 270km because the best guys always win.”

“If it was 150km, you’d get an exciting race but you wouldn’t have the best guy win. But to get to that point you need to race at WorldTour level and do Grand Tours. Like how many years did it take G (Geraint Thomas) to get to where he is. It’s chipping away so being a domestique like G was is like doing massive training blocks”.

“A grand tour is like doing the hardest training block and if you can take it and then do another one and then another, step by step you get stronger. Then you have the freaks (Van der Poel for example) but 99 per cent of the guys take years to be competitive at the end of a serious WorldTour bike race.

Our thanks to Sean for the chat, most enlightening as always.

Sean during his time as DS at NFTO in Britain




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