It looks grand for Simon Yates, Britain’s ‘flying black pudding’, as he bids to fry his rivals at the Giro d’Italia 2018

Evening Standard
Out in front | Simon Yates wears the leader’s pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Out in front | Simon Yates wears the leader’s pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The Giro d’Italia plays out on two television sets simultaneously in the Yates family home.

John and Sue, parents of maglia rosa wearer Simon, refuse to watch the Giro unfold together out of sheer anxiety.

In part, that is down to how their son is exceeding expectations to lead a race, which features defending champion Tom Dumoulin and Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

But there are also parental fears just two months after Simon’s twin, Adam, broke his pelvis after a crash at the Volta a Catalunya. At 25, Simon has long been marked out as a Grand Tour contender, much like his sibling.

Nick Hall is the chairman of Bury Clarion cycling club, which they joined aged 12 with the mentality of reaching those heights.

“Kids round here will tell you they want to play for Man United,” said Hall. “Simon just said he wanted to be a professional cyclist.”

Thanks to the brothers and the rise in cycling, club numbers have soared from 30 when they joined to 150 but the family has remained modest.

“They’re all pretty reserved,” said Hall. “They don’t make a big deal about what’s going on, partly because they know there’s a long way to go in the Giro.”

Talk to anyone who has worked with Yates and they say his one weakness is his time trialling — although he has improved in recent time.

The statistics suggest Dumoulin will be 90 seconds better than Yates in Tuesday’s potentially make-or-break 34km ride against the clock. The Briton’s lead is 47 seconds.

It is nearly seven years since the Yates brothers entered the British Cycling set-up. “Even then, Simon’s bike handling was so good,” said former rider and British coach Chris Newton. He showed promise from the word go, was always built to climb and could sprint.”

A shy teenager, Yates now looks completely at ease against the world’s best. And he has rarely been starstruck bar the odd blip according to another British coach, Keith Lambert.

“He never replies to me anymore he’s such a big star!” he said, joking. “But I remember him sending a message to say he’d just dropped Froomey at the Dauphine and he was super excited.”

In Lambert’s eyes, it was an early 2013 training block in Australia which helped bring Yates to the fore. Weeks later, he was the points race track world champion and then won two stages of the Tour de l’Avenir, a mini Tour de France.

Last year he finished seventh at Le Tour, winnng him the white jersey for the best-placed young rider.

But his rise has not been straight forward and in 2016 he was banned for three months — forcing him to miss the Tour and the Olympics — following an error by his team in failing to register a therapeutic use exemption for asthma medication. “I think it made him more determined,” said Lambert. “He knew in his mind he hadn’t done anything wrong so there was no guilt.”

His tendency, however, to have one off day at a Grand Tour is what prevents Yates, a good rider, from being great. But Froome and Team Sky would love him on their books and team boss Dave Brailsford’s response to one of his stand-out rides was: “Ouch, we should have signed that one”.

But he and Adam turned them down, opting for Orica-GreenEDGE - now Mitchelton-Scott - with Grands Tours in mind. Newton said: “Simon wanted that freedom rather than to ride for, say, Froome. And the way he’s gone you’d say his potential is limitless.”

A rider labelled the ‘flying black pudding’ by the Italian media could be about to devour his rivals.

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