Sean Yates – it’s all about the bike | Review

sean-yates-it-s-all-about-the-bikeSean Yates was a hard man of old school pro-cycling. Coming from the British based scene, Yates made that very difficult route from domestic amateur to full time continental pro. In a long and distinguished career, he became the third British person to wear the yellow jersey and a time trial stage in the Tour de France and Vuelta Espagne. After retiring as a pro, Sean continued to race on the domestic scene and also moved into management – from the chaotic McCartney team to the brave new world of Team Sky.

Some points from reading the book.

  • It is revealing into the mindset and attitude that Yates’ had to life and cycling. You get an overwhelming impression that this is a guy willing and able to repeatedly drive himself into the ground. Although there’s no firm link, you do wonder the extent to which his health problems are related to the intensity he was willing to put into riding the bike.
  • As you might expect, Yates just avoids the whole issue of doping. I don’t think it’s mentioned even once. He’s loyal to Lance Armstrong and in the best traditions of the old school omerta leaves the drug issue well alone. Personally, I feel rather detached from this. I’m so full of doping confessions, doping reports, doping books e.t.c. I didn’t expect Yates to have anything revelatory to say. It is kind of the elephant in the room, but that’s Yates and the era of pro cycling.
  • It does come across as part confessional. For example, on one page, you are reading how Yates went for a ramp test and produced the best wattage figures since Eddy Merckx, and on the next page he confesses to turning his grass brown because he would urinate out his window. Confessions may have their place, but perhaps the confession box is a better place than you’re autobiography. A couple of times I felt like saying ‘just a bit too much information, Yatesy’
  • On the plus side you feel you are reading quite an open and honest account. There isn’t really a side to Yates, he does tell it like he is.
  • Another good feature of the book is simply the fact that Yates has been at the heart of procycling for the past 30 years. He may have been mostly a domestique, but he was racing alongside the greats of the era from Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly and Robert Millar. I particularly liked the insights into Robert Millar.
  • Apart from the yellow jersey in the Tour, he also rates his 5th place in the 1994 Paris Roubaix as one of his best achievements. (This particular race was rated at number 2 in one magazine as the toughest classic of all time.)
  • One chapter is written by his ex-wife. I thought that was a good touch and offered an interesting insight from another perspective. Only it did reinforce Yates’ image as a bit of a lad.
  • It was perhaps fitting that Sean Yates was director sportive for Team Sky when Bradley Wiggins was the first British person to win the Tour de France. But, you don’t particularly come away with an overwhelming sense of achievement and pride. The thing that sticks in your mind (perhaps unfairly) is the petty dispute between Wiggins and Froome. Wiggins wanting to leave the race, whilst wearing yellow because he felt Froome stabbed him in the back by attacking on one stage. Yates said it took Dave Brailsford to persuade Wiggins to stay in the race.
  • It’s an interesting paradox as Sean Yates was the ultimate domestique. on p.156 Dag Otto says of Sean:

If I could only say one thing about Sean, it is that you can trust him 110 per cent. He’ll always put you first’

  • Although it ranks pretty low in the cycling world, I’m pretty impressed by his domestic time trial successes. Taking the national 10 mile TT record in the early 1980s with 19m 44s. (before tribars and discwheels). Then after coming back from his pro career, he still won the national 50 in 1997 (he also finished 3rd in 2005 event, aged 45). With Zak Carr, he also set a record in the tandem 12 hour – 303 miles in 2005


I received the book as a free review copy, and enjoyed dipping in. It’s not particularly inspirational, but you have to admire certain qualities of Sean Yates – the tremendous determination, talent and commitment. In a way reading the book made me glad I didn’t become a pro cyclist. Sean Yates is the real deal. The classic hard man from that era of pro-cycling.

2 thoughts on “Sean Yates – it’s all about the bike | Review”

  1. I started reading this book and wanted to put it down because as you mentioned the doping elephant in the room was present in my mind. I just decided to park the doping issue and read it, occasionally it entered my head but I carried on regardless. I think what comes across is Seans love of just riding his bike and thats what inspiration I took from it.

  2. 40 pages in. Brilliant! But that’s for me and wife – at 67, a few years older than Yates. He does refer to doping by saying he won’t mention it. He was also furious to be collateral damage in the EPO scandals primarily due to his fringe involvement with Armstrong at bookends of LA career. His character matches mine on LA doping – I worked in a close knit team of 6 for 3 years on a project in east end of London and didn’t realise two Americans in team absolutely hated each other – to their credit, they hid it well and, to my discredit, I was very socially unobservant. With no evidence, I’d guess he was last of old school ‘pot belge’ uppers and downers in wine to sleep and then be up for next day travel or racing rather than EPO, testosterone, etc.
    Childhood in Ashdown Forest echoes of Eric Clapton – even to staying in same area with same childhood friends. Also Jez Butterworth (have I got name right?) play, Jerusalem. And echoes John Lennon as leader and oldest in a gang of pals in what became Beatles in 1950s Liverpool – also unconventional home life. I know Ashdown Forest and wooded East Sussex and west Kent from childhood; sister and family live on fringe. Walking old paths with his pal evokes it well.
    Clearly, he was born with an enormously powerful engine. With a learning style that did not suit school so he didn’t fit in, he developed the engine instinctively, eg riding behind bus. I’ve known a few similar people but their childhood ‘training’ vast distances on bike, running, or in pool, was usually to dull the pain of unhappy, even abusive, home lives. His mileage seems to have been like a dog bred for endurance work that just has to go out and work but home was happy enough.
    Loving it so far


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