Anatomy of a Photo: Milan-San Remo 1983

Anatomy of a Photo: Milan-San Remo 1983

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It is said that this race is one of the easiest to finish but hardest to win. Really, it is the easiest to finish? I’ve driven from San Remo to Milan and it takes hours and hours, even at Italian highway speeds.  I’m amazed this race usually ends up in a field sprint, somehow big sprinters survive the capos at the end of this long course. These are not major climbs but they are ridden incredibly fast, faster than any of us could ascend, even if we didn’t do the warm up from Milan.

What a shot of suffering on the bike this is. The twenty-two year old, second year pro with Peugeot, hanging on up the Capo Berta. I’d look as miserable as him if I was racing on a steel Peugeot too. Sean’s grimy expression is unapologetic suffering. He might have told Graham Watson to sod off if he wasn’t dying so. No gloves for his 300km race and the brake hoods are nothing to hang on to unless climbing out of the saddle which Yates could be doing here if his legs could handle it.

The best part of this photo is how big he is. He may be climbing well for his weight but he must have dropped one whole Andy-Schleck-unit by the time he was racing for Motorola. And yet, here he is, paying his dues as a young pro, looking like the British pursuit champion he was… no Capo Bertas on the track.

The Velominati hold Sean Yates in the highest regard. He is a classic hardman, no messing about, he would ride you into the ground and enjoy doing it. He is in an elite group of riders that includes Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady; to call them domestiques would greatly understate their careers. They are more team captains (the French must have a good word for this), they have all been in the yellow jersey of the Tour, and all have outstanding palmares. Probably better to just call them hardmen.

Post script:
“When you’re in your first professional season and riding in your first real classic, a relatively miniscule hill like the Capo Berta in Milan-San Remo can have the nastiest effect on your diminishing reserves of stamina. That’s how Sean Yates came to remember his baptism into big-time racing, having neglected the opportunity to collect a food-bag at the final feeding station, twenty kilometers before.
I was inching my way past the heaving peloton on the Capo Berta when I caught sight of a bulky figure  wearing a Peugeot jersey-unmistakably Yates. As I passed our eyes met: mine squinting through an 85mm lens, his out of a face screwed up in agony and exhaustion. It was a short exchange- I couldn’t bear to look at him in such a state…”

-Graham Watson, Visions of Cycling. p 58.

// Anatomy of a Photo // Racing // The Hardmen

milan-san remo, yates

  1. @michael
    You are right, it has always been the standard. Maybe Sean is using track bars! His lever end is way below the imaginary line. The guy behind him, his bars and brakes look more squared away.

    Can it be blamed on the French Wrench?

    I was just trying to find another photo of Yates from ’83 and came across G. Watson’s memory of this photo, he said Yates had passed on a final feed 20km earlier and was truly in the pain cave when he took this shot.

  2. Gloves? The dude is on steel dishing the V, and that top tube has no slope at all. Watson couldn’t hear him over the sound of his AWESOME.

  3. Yates seems to have seen a ghost of some sort, perhaps a glimpse of purgatory on earth or the inner recess of his soul that he had not seen since his daddy whipped his ass as a child for doing something rather naughty…because there is a little hint of fear in his eyes with that suffering, and that is remarkable for ‘this hardman’.

  4. @eightzero
    Yeah baby!

    @Souleur
    That may have been the ghost of Sean Yates Future, like ten minutes into the future when he pulled off the road and begged a local for food. I assume he finished the race because he is so f’ing AWESOME.

    That look in his eyes, those were the years when no one was wearing glasses to hide the pain. It’s great stuff.

  5. Rule #46. I gotta think Big Sean gets an exemption for levers lower than the drops… Can we get a ruling from a Keeper? I long to see Milan – San Remo some day, I’ve ridden a motorcycle from Varese to Portofino, mostly along the route, and it’s amazing terrain. Long, flat roads across endless rice fields, followed by wicked little twisty climbs with wooded slopes and streams, castles and monasteries on every hill. Bella! Plus the pantheon of greats who’ve won it or died trying. Sean Kelly In ’92, reeling in Argentin comes to mind. Not to detract from the subject, as Mr. Yates was a true beast.

  6. @sgt
    Right, Rule #46, how did I miss that? Oh hell yes he get’s an exemption. I believe the day after the race they have a cool “race” for civilians, it starts and ends in San Remo so one would get some coastal riding and all the hills at the end. Oh yes please. What a weekend that would be.

  7. Pretty sure I’ve seen this pic before. Total old school suffering at its finest.

    What I get from it – you can almost replace the old Peugeot with something even older, like from the ’40s – and he would look correct on it. The chunky body, the look and grime on his face, the hair.

    It’s like a double time warp.

  8. Perhaps the low brakes are something Sean liked because he was tall and had long arms. Riding on the hoods would be a lot like riding in the drops in his case.

  9. His bars have always been set up this way, even recently with STI shifting which much be a bitch to operate. Perhaps its because his arms are so long his knuckles drag on the ground when he walks that he needs the extra reach or he feels cramped.

  10. well in terms of the position of the chickenbones, I suppose he opted for the better of the 2, put them down, not up. Secondly, Yates pretty much rode anything in any size he wanted because notice how small his frames usually are. So for bar drop, stems, TT lengths he obviously pretty much said ‘screw it & ride’ and often times said as long as your in form you could ride anything. There is probably a lot of truth in that.

  11. @Souleur
    Jens clearly took note of this at the TdF this year.

  12. @Gianni
    No glasses — this raises an interesting point about Rule #39. From a historical perspective obligatory eyewear is a new thing. I was just watching A Sunday in Hell and the only eyewear is worn off the bike. Of course, no one is wearing a helmet either. But there is something refreshing about a peleton that doesn’t look like a bunch of robots or high stakes poker players.

  13. Never mind being able to tell the women from the men.

  14. @Nate

    From a historical perspective obligatory eyewear is a new thing. I was just watching A Sunday in Hell and the only eyewear is worn off the bike. Of course, no one is wearing a helmet either. But there is something refreshing about a peleton that doesn’t look like a bunch of robots or high stakes poker players.

    They fall into the same category, too: safety. As for the abomination of poker players wearing cycling-specific eyewear, let’s not ever, ever, EVER again make the mistake of saying that cyclists look like poker players.

    The low point of this years Tour was the whole poker analogy thing.

  15. @eightzero

    Gloves? The dude is on steel dishing The V, and that top tube has no slope at all. Watson couldn’t hear him over the sound of his AWESOME.

    Nicely done.

  16. @sgt

    Rule #46. I gotta think Big Sean gets an exemption for levers lower than the drops… Can we get a ruling from a Keeper?

    He was absolutely in violation, and was also in violation of Rule #27. Throughout his career. He gets a pass on the basis that he’s was tougher than me. But you should feel free to tell him.

    Its amazing to see how big he is. That is one big dude. Like, Frank big. He am I, we know what it means to be a big rider. Hell, I would like him just on that basis alone.

    He may have kicked off the whole skinny thing. I think this might be the exact moment he decided he was gnu to really watch his diet and get skinny. He was notoriously obsessive over weight and I can understand why; he looks huge here. Christ, that look in his eyes is haunting.

  17. Is it me (or my browser) or are those images in Rule #27 missing?

  18. @michael
    Just noticed that too. When I’m back at a KOMPUTOR I will investigate. It’s that crap developer set loose again.

  19. @Nate
    Maybe they should outlaw glasses when they outlaw radios, to be able to see rider’s eyes, it’s important. Windows, soul, bla bla.

    @frank
    Well played…is this the first appearance of Capt’n James T Kirk? Awesomeness. Is this a poster in your bedroom?

  20. Here is the improved Yates, 5 years later. Thinner and brake levers looking just about perfect.

  21. But the shorts!

  22. Whoa! don’t do a Google image search on large images of Sean Yeats with your safe filter off.

  23. @Gianni
    Jeebus, how long do you reckon those cranks are? Could be an optical illusion but they seem really really long.

  24. @michael
    @Marko
    He likes his shorts short and his cranks wicked long. Don’t argue with him. He is a long streak-o-piss.

  25. @Gianni
    YOU tell him.


  26. Yates wore the maillot jaune in the 1994 Tour de France, the third Briton to do so. Yates rode 12 Tours, completing nine; 45th was his best placing. He was powerful on flat stages and noted as a descender of mountains. He was too heavy to climb with the best however

    Veiled praise or pointed jab from Wikipedia?

  27. @Marko
    Wow. They just called him too fat to climb. They didn’t even say he climbed well for his weight.

  28. @frank,@Marko
    IF he finished 9 Tours he can climb well enough for his weight. Wikipedia…they don’t understand the nuance of it all.

    That’s quite a dodgey mo’ he was working in the first Motorola pic.

  29. I’ll edit the Wikipedia page if someone can come up with something really classy.

  30. @michael
    For a powerful rouleur Yates climbed very well for his weight?

  31. @Marko
    Yeah, perfect. And make mention of the fact that despite his violating of the Rules in shorts length, he also helped us define what the right length is. Not too long, but not too short, either.

    It just occurred to me, was he throwing back to the wool-bibs days when they were much shorter? Was he paying homage to his own heros?

  32. I changed it to “For a rouleur Yates climbed very well for his weight.” with a link on the word rouleur. “Powerful” was used in the sentence before so it sounded redundant.

  33. @michael
    ++1

  34. @michael
    Oh, just had a thought. Can you put a link to the Lexicon for climbed well for his weight? Because that would rule.

  35. I so should have patented “climb well for my weight.” When it goes viral, I’m going to kick myself…

  36. @Marko, I would but I’m sure they would remove it eventually, maybe undoing all my changes in the process

    @frank et al.
    I’m surprised that you guys haven’t figured out that short size/length is based on leg girth (yeah that phrase again). When Sean was ‘heavier’ he was able to wear a larger sized short and thus longer. When he got skinny he had to go down maybe a couple sizes in shorts and those are shorter. You only seem to see this on tall guys, although short guys have shorts that are too long sometimes too though.

  37. @michael
    A+1.

    I followed the “rouleur” link, and saw this:

    “The german Jens Voigt is regarded as one of the best rouleur riders to this day. He is famous for riding very long distances without slipstream.”

    Well, yes – though it doesn’t really do JENS! justice (not to mention not spelling his name “JENS!”).

    So I followed the link to “Jens Voigt” (sic) and found this:

    “…Voigt has never challenged for the overall title due to his lack of ability in the mountains …”

    Huh? “Lack of ability”?! Good grief. “Relative inability to climb as well as a tiny little person half his weight” perhaps. But not “lack of ability”.

    It then goes on to say:

    “In cycling folklore, he is considered as one of the best rouleur riders to this day.”

    “Folklore”?!!! Good grief.

    I think there may be a job here for the Velominati community – sorting out Wikipedia entries. While the onset of summer down here means we Antipodeans might have little time to devote to it, those of you in the dark, frozen North may be able to make some productive use of those long winter evenings…

  38. Ha, I love the Wikipedia edit. It is a community resource after all, and as Velominati it’s our duty to make edits to Wikipedia that improve the articles. Making sure the correct prases are used could just be the start…

  39. @michael

    I’m surprised that you guys haven’t figured out that short size/length is based on leg girth (yeah that phrase again). When Sean was ‘heavier’ he was able to wear a larger sized short and thus longer. When he got skinny he had to go down maybe a couple sizes in shorts and those are shorter. You only seem to see this on tall guys, although short guys have shorts that are too long sometimes too though.

    It’s a good theory and generally true (believe me, I know about long lets and shorts), but he actually did roll them up, or deliberately wear them extra short, depending on what phase of his career you’re talking about.

    Here they are actually folded back:

    And here they are pretty obviously crimped up by the hip:

    It definitely seems like he would be able to wear them longer if he wanted.

  40. @frank
    His guns are so powerful, the bib-cuffs are getting pushed up. That’s my theory. Note however that this theory fails to explain the rolled-up shirtsleeves on the Fagor jersey.

    Also, do I detect further evidence re the Rule #46 issue?

  41. What did he do in the off-season or for a job that he didn’t want a low cycling tan line??

  42. @Mr Haven

    This brings up a very interesting discussion regarding the interesting photos I saw doing a Google image search for “Sean Yates” then selecting Large Images in the left column with safe search off.

    NSFW: http://ow.ly/32JXY

  43. michael:
    @Mr Haven
    This brings up a very interesting discussion regarding the interesting photos I saw doing a Google image search for “Sean Yates” then selecting Large Images in the left column with safe search off.
    NSFW: http://ow.ly/32JXY

    From what I saw, he enjoys a bit of male-modeling, as well as gaining excessive amounts of weight and getting married on the beach. That must be a bitch to work off ahead of racing season.

    Your link is certainly a bit more interesting.

  44. A bit off topic (actually almost completely off topic) but in my looking around here in the Hardmen category I have not found any mention of Ian Stannard. Surely his 2010 K-B-K result warrants admitting him into these halls, if for nothing more than this post race interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vq7LbOHZbs

  45. @Mr Haven
    He used to like cutting hedges, with his bare hands I’m guessing?
    On the topic of slim, what is it with some of these ex pros that are looking slimmer than when they rode? Yates, Allan Peiper, Brian Holm, Rolf Aldag, all look slimmer now today, all with grey hair though.

  46. @roche kelly

    Brian Holm: A spot of cancer tends to do wonders for the waistline.

    @frank

    In other walks of life, shorts were worn much shorter back then. No knee length beach shorts or basket ball shorts.

  47. @Chris
    Forgot that Brian Holm had cancer in the past Chris, you have a good memory. Hence Flamme Rouge, doh.
    Yates is looking scary now though. Even as a rider he was not this slim, this is a guy that came to Australia in the off season 87 or 88 with a mountain bike & panniers & spent a few months riding & sleeping in a tent so that he wouldn’t put on amy weight. Mind you the season after was one of his worst, so obviously needed the rest. I still recall reading about Yates & his coffee and pastry breakfast diet, where he went out & rode all morning, spent all afternoon sun bathing. Had a pizza for evening meal & went home to bed as his weight loss programme. This was when he joined Fagor, right when those varicose veins in his legs started to show up.

  48. @roche kelly
    Not such a good memory as an avid reader, there have been two or three magazine articles recently including Rouleur 25.

  49. Anyone remember his crash during the TDF (must have been 92 or 93) when he ruptured an artery in his arm and left the majority of the skin of one of his legs on the tarmac. Even the great Yates had to retire, but did he climb in the car, did he ****, he rode to the finish. I’ve got an amazing pic of his ‘healed’ leg during the Kelloggs tour of the same year somewhere in the loft, I’l have to scan it and upload it. It wouldn’t be out of place in a scene from Jaws. No doubt, Sean is the dogs.

    He breaks many rule of Velominati (brakes, no bib shorts) but who cares, he is a legend.

    The only point of concern was his dodgy diy haircut in one of the tours (possibly done with hedge clippers) – but you wouldn’t say it to his face!

  50. I remember reading that, after his mechanic had adjusted his brake lever travel ‘correctly’, Yates would slacken them off again until the levers would come back to the bars without locking the wheels! It sounds VERY scary to me, but his unbelievable descending skills (honed on motorcycles, I believe), show it worked for him.

    By all accounts he had a very clear idea of HIS preferred bike set-up, and if it didn’t accord with anyone else’s, that was their problem, not his.

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