Oh my God, that’s Sean Yates!
Sean Yates. Yep, the Sean Yates. And I’m on his bloody wheel in the Dunsfold 4ths.
At the stroke of a pedal my sporting life scaled a peak it will never reach again. And if that sounds overly melodramatic to you well tough, frankly. For one night only I got to race with Sean Yates and, even three days later, I’m still on a high. If I must make a football comparison it’s like turning up for your Sunday pub team’s latest fixture and finding Gazza among your opponents.
Why so significant to me? Well, younger readers who’ve grown up on a diet of Cavendish, Wiggins, Thomas, Millar and the modern wave of British cycling stars probably have only the murkiest idea of the era I started watching bike racing in, when we Brits were pretty much a laughing stock as a road cycling nation; a position epitomised by the legendarily crap attempt on the Tour de France by ANC Halfords back in 1987.
A handful of names generally stifled the mirth whenever they were uttered. One of them was Sean Yates. In his day an absolute animal of a rider, he famously put Lance in his place when he first joined Motorola (though the two became firm friends and have remained so ever since), while on the road he wore the yellow jersey and won a stage in the Tour, was British Champion and always rode hard with precious little luck in the daddy of all one-dayers, Paris-Roubaix. He’s a genuine, gold-plated hero of mine and I make no bones about that.
Even now, at 52 years of age (the race was actually on his birthday), he was worlds apart from the rest of the 4th Cats toiling around Dunsfold, and not just because he was on a super-bling Team Sky Pinarello with deep section wheels that hummed with a sound all of their own. No, it was the cadence that really gave his pedigree away – more than half as fast again as anybody else riding and just the smoothest thing you’ve ever seen. Pure poetry in motion.
I know all this because I spent most of the race behind him, just watching. Of course the Great Man wasn’t turning out in some vain attempt to rise back up through the amateur cycling ranks; he was there for one reason only: to look after his 18 year-old boy Liam as the lad continued his own fledgling racing career. Until the climax of the race it wasn’t anything showy, just the odd word of advice and one enormous pull at the front that immediately dashed a late breakaway which briefly threatened to go the distance.
Once we entered the final straight, however, he simply blew everyone away in the guise of lead-out man, dropping Liam off for a facile win by several bike lengths. If the boy Yates proves to have a career anything like as successful as dad’s I will always be able to say I was present for his first senior victory.
All of this comprehensively overshadowed what was a hugely encouraging performance from Yours Truly. Having stayed out of trouble throughout the fairly pedestrian but pretty sketchy race, I sorted my final bend position out so I was much better placed to stay out of the wind than the previous week. A big young chap from the Blazing Saddles club was a good wheel to get on, although my gentlemanly offer to my team-mate Simon to slot in right behind him proved a slightly unfortunate decision, since Simon faded almost immediately afterwards and Blazing Saddles was gone by the time I’d got round him (B Saddles ended up 5th as it happens).
So there was nothing for it but to crouch down on the drops and just pedal like my life depended on it for the final couple of hundred metres. Even though my heart felt as though it was about to burst from my chest like some out-take from Alien (I set a new all-time heart rate record of 208bpm while sprinting) I just went for it hammer and tongs and did not stop until I’d crossed the line.
A quick headcount of the finishers in front of me indicated 10th place, which was confirmed by the organiser Glyn upon review of his finish-line film.
So I got a BC point, finishing ahead of 41 out of the 51 starters, and continuing the progress I felt I made in the veterans’ race two days earlier. It’s just one point, of course, but I had to wait until the very last Dunsfold race to get off the mark last season, so I reckon I’m well ahead of the game.
More importantly, I’m in the form of my life just now, thanks to my two months of following the coaching plans of Alex Welburn and then the fantastic team training camp in Majorca. My legs feel strong, I’ve dropped another kilo or so and I find I can hold some pretty high speeds for some pretty decent distances compared with days gone by.
The challenge will be to hold my form and get some bigger points payoffs once a few more of the Liam Yates’s of this world have departed and the 4th Cat playing field is thus levelled further. There’s still a lot of racing to be done, especially during the next five weeks before my summer holiday kills my racing fitness stone dead and I have to start all over again…
But that’s to worry about in the future. In the present, I’m back at Dunsfold this week for another crack at the vets’ race. Onwards and upwards!