Interview: Sean Yates (Eolo Kometa)

Back in January, we spoke to performance director and former Yellow jersey in the Tour de France, Sean Yates of Eolo Kometa Cycling Team about the challenges of 2021 and a pandemic

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Interview: Sean Yates (Eolo Kometa)

Back in January, we spoke to performance director and former Yellow jersey in the Tour de France, Sean Yates of Eolo Kometa Cycling Team who are about to start their second race of 2021 in Clasica de Almeria on Sunday with, possibly, the likes of John Archibald.

John was supposed to race at the back end of January and before that, meet up with the team for a training camp, but like so many Brits including teammate Mark Christian, Jake Stewart, Connor Swift, Alex Richardson and more, the pandemic and travel restrictions have forced them to stay at home.

What those restrictions in Spain are now I’m not sure, especially with this Clasica de Almeria UCI race on Sunday but back in January, the restrictions were quite severe. I’m hearing that travel to France for Brits has just changed as well (two British riders for the CX worlds had to fly to Belgium as they could not drive through France) for non EU sports people and with quarantine for those returning to Britain from red listed hotspots (such as Portugal and South Africa), all these restrictions are making life very difficult in indeed for professional athletes.

Back in January, Sean, who now lives in in Spain, explained at the time, “at the moment, unless you are a Spanish passport holder or Spanish resident, you’re not allowed out here”. These restrictions stopped both Mark Christian and John Archibald from their training camp and fingers are crossed that John, who has been named in the team for the Clasica de Almeria on Sunday, can get out to Spain. Looking through the government info on their website, the reems of text must be a nightmare for ‘normal’ people to interpret, confirming what riders have said about the stress they are under trying to get to events.

Sean’s team Eolo Kometa Cycling Team has moved up from Conti level in 2020 to ProConti level in 2021 and so will be at the mercy of race organisers giving out wildcards to their events at a time when events are being cancelled and WorldTour teams are clamouring to get a race to get their season started.

“It is difficult this year” explains Sean, “because races have been cancelled and the WorldTour teams are scrambling for races. The lesser ranked UCI races can accept only limited number of WorldTour teams so that does make it easier for us.”

“We will have a very good race programme and need to use our best riders in the most important events (to get results) and the rest of the riders will get what racing they can. I’m sure when things settle down, there will be enough racing for everyone. Our big ambition is to ride the Giro” he added. Just now as I publish this interview (Feb 10), its been confirmed his team have been awarded a wildcard. Sean thought getting such a ride was going to be tricky.

“Alpecin-Fenix (also ProConti) want to ride all three grand tours and they are entitled to one of the wild cards (first ProConti team in 2020) and Quintana wants to ride the Giro as well (Team Arkéa Samsic, Pro Conti) .” As it turns out, Arkéa Samsic haven’t got a wildcard despite their strong line up. The teams who did get wildcards are Vini Zabù, Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè, EOLO-Kometa and Alpecin-Fenix. Sean’s team also have wildcards for other big races such as Strade Bianche and Tirreno Adriatico.

Race ambitions aside, Sean did explain that the training camp went well. The weather for their training camp was lovely said Sean and they were lucky in that the bad weather where the whole of the Spanish coast had storms and snow, ended before the training camp began.

The training camp was Sean’s chance to get back into the swing of a pro cycling team and seeing how his riders performed ahead of the racing. “Camps these days are not like they used to be” Sean explained. “Nowadays, they are run by the coaches because there are serious training and efforts to be done. So the DS’s are here to observe and drive the cars whilst the coaches make sure the riders do what has been set out for them.”

It is a lot different to the days when Sean started racing. “Back then, we just went for rides” says Sean who started his racing career with the Peugeot team. There were no coaches then or training platforms (Training Peaks etc), so we just went for rides. Back in the day at the time of the camps, there were loads of races in the South of France as well, about 20 days of racing in a three week period we were down there, so the team would rotate its riders and race and ride and have rest days.”

“I guess the DS’s and senior members of the team had a plan for each of the days but as a neo pro, I just went along with the flow and took the training on the chin. Now, you come down here (Calpe) and you see all the teams going up and down these climbs doing all these efforts and lactate tests, and you realise why the riders go so fast in the early races. The training is pretty dam serious so come the first race, they’re in peak form.”

One of the things that riders from Britain are not aware of until they get into the swing of the training and racing against their teammates and rivals in Europe is just how they are going to go and for some, that experience can be intimating. For Sean, remembering how the early years were for him admits that back in 1981, as an amateur travelling to France to join the biggest French club at the time, the ACBB, he did think he was going to get his ass kicked.

“It turned out to be the other way round though” adds Sean, saying “I was much stronger than they were so when I turned professional for the Pro team, I knew I should be as strong as them and it wouldn’t be an issue but the jump from the amateur ranks to the pro ranks was massive”.

“For me it was an adventure, and I never went into it thinking I need to hang on, or need to do 10 years as a pro, or make this amount of money or get such and such results. I just rocked up and made friends with the likes of Stephen Roche, Robert Millar, Phil Anderson and winged it really.”

Whilst Mark Christian and John Archibald were not at the second of their team’s training camps, Sean explained they were both replicating the training at the camp back at their respective homes either on the road or turbo. “It is unfortunate they couldn’t get down here to ride the race bikes but it’s not the end of the world.”

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What was unfortunate also was that the Vuelta Valencia in early February was cancelled/postponed as that was an event that Sean was keen to see John Archibald in as that race had a time trial which may have suited John to produce a good overall performance in the stage race. “John is raring to go, training hard and very motivated as is Mark” added Sean.

The training camp in January was the team’s second one as they also had one in December which John and Mark were able to attend. Asking Sean how the camps differed, he explained “as the racing is getting closer, and the riders have more miles in their legs, the second camp saw more efforts and more intensity than there was in December when it was pretty much a base building camp with some efforts”.

Talking about the camp in January, Sean explained the rides were not massively long. “We did 220km the other day with no efforts but the shorter rides where you do efforts are not long but high intensity instead and that does take it out of the riders. With the training platforms, you know how much it’s taking out of the riders and the coaches adjust the training plan accordingly.”

Sean then went on to add that the early season races are not super long but can be aggressive from the start so the riders need to have the top end adding also that riders can’t be entered into races in a fatigued state. Knowing how his riders are form wise is easier these days Sean explained, saying “there is less of a chance of not knowing about a rider’s form, especially in a camp with the coaches present, but also at home, as the riders have to upload their data to the training platform every day.”

“As long as they do the training, then the riders should perform as expected.” Sean admits that during a training camp, he gets to know the riders, their peculiarities and character adding that when the races start, he and the senior members of the team will really get to know the riders even more.

“All the riders have been really motivated since signing their contracts and we have had two coaches training ten riders each full time. We’ve had two training camps and have great equipment and we are looking forward to a great future as well. We want to hit the ground running and give a good account of ourselves in the races we do as we have a decent race programme mainly in Italy and Spain as well as France.”

John Archibald is known for his time trialling ability at events from the World Championships down and Sean says of that, “if he performs in a time trial against good riders, then he obviously he has a good motor and in theory, he can perform in other areas of bike racing and potentially has a big future on the road providing he can adapt to racing in the pro peloton.”

“His work ethic is very high and he is strong willed. If he gets in a breakaway with five or six guys and they give him too much leeway, then they won’t see him again.”

John’s opportunity to show that engine of his however is being held back by the Covid travel restrictions in place by various countries so his racing this weekend may or may not happen but with a little luck, he will get that opportunity to start a career racing a level up from where has been in the UK. Good luck to Sean and his team for Sunday and beyond.

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