Our Man, Sean Yates

Our Man, Sean Yates

The Works: It’s All About The Bike, Sean Yates

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It’s been awhile since a book has been reviewed on Velominati. Who has time to read books? I needed some background on Sean Yates and was surprised to know he had written an autobiography back in 2013. This book is a real beauty. The book is stitched together with his own accounts of life and accounts from friends and fellow racers. He was a record keeping maniac so he has a lot of good detail of his early cycling days. His friend’s accounts all tell tales of a big friendly guy with huge capacity to put everyone in the hurt locker, including himself.

Interestingly all his family were vegetarians and he had never eaten meat until he moved to France. It certainly dispels any myths about vegetarians not being able to be super athletes as Sean was most certainly that. He was a natural rouler, easily going under an hour on his very first attempt at a 40km time trial (bastard!). Luckily his family was very supportive of a lad who chose to ride rather than go to college.

Back in his day the riders were coach-less and often clueless. Yates was doing hundreds of push ups everyday; keeping the physique more rugby player than cyclist. Young pros would show up at races, get hammered, go home. And repeat. Here is an excerpt of Sean in Paris as a neo-pro, now eating meat and everything else.

In Paris, we’d go for a ride in the morning then laze around. My favorite trick was to go to the patisserie along the road and buy a huge family butter cake. It’s sort of a white cake, made of absolute pure fat. I’d mush it all up, dump the lot into a salad bowl and sit there eating it with a spoon like it was a bowl of muesli. -Sean Yates

Preparing [the cake] was a total ritual for him, like a heroin addict cooking up, says John Herety [fellow racer and flatmate], The cake would be divided into squares, then the whole lot would go in the sort of bowl reserved for family fruit salads. Then a large pot of fromage blanc would go over the lot. That gave him the excuse to call it “yogurt cake’ like it was some kind of health food.

The book is full of these great stories. Sean Kelly tells a few tales of Sean’s descending abilities that are pure gold. Early on, Yates’s Merckx-like natural talent kept him in the professional ranks despite his lack of the race savvy those who grew up on the continent may have already had. He rode for Peugeot with mentors like Phil Anderson and Stephen Roche, then eventually joined the 7-Eleven team, which turned into Motorola. It was quite an amazing career.

I’ll spare you any further details because they are much better when read right from the book, available used and maybe even new from your local book seller or library. This is the best rider autobiography I’ve read in many years and highly recommend it. It gets the V-bunker’s five cogs rating.

 

// The Works

  1. Need to revisit this one bought on I-tunes, but Arc. School got in the way. now maybe I can finish it. Thanks for the reminder. What I did read is awesome

  2. What’s with the rainbow rings on his sleeves (or are they even rainbow rings?)? He won the British Nationals but no others, right?

  3. That’s a big picture.

  4. @Buck Rogers

    I don’t think he won any worlds. He did go to the Olympics and Worlds in pursuit on the track but I don’t think he won. You want to take that jersey off him? Nah, I didn’t think so.

  5. @Minnesota Expat

    That’s a big picture.

    He is a big fella.

  6. Interesting reading about his health issues.

    Some good stuff on being around Wiggins.

  7. It’s just a shirt, not a jersey.

  8. Here are a couple of books I might have to hint strongly about for Fathers’ Day next weekend.

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/jun/10/robert-capa-tour-de-france-richard-williams

    The Magnum Cycling book in particular looks fantastic. Guy Andrews is the chap who started Rouleur.

  9. That’s a Fred Perry x Wiggo shirt with rainbow arm bands. Should you wear them off you haven’t won the world’s is another matter. But I like my Wiggo tops and wear them quite often

  10. @Oli

    It’s NOT just shirt: It’s a Merino wool lightweight jersey made in England by fellow Brit Fred Perry (1st winner of a Grand Slam, he won Wimbeldon 1934-36)

  11. ….and they still make that shirt! https://www.fredperry.com/shop/collections/men/bradley-wiggins

  12. @David Booth Beers

    Sorry, I didn’t mean just a shirt, I meant not a cycling jersey. I love the Fred Perry stuff.

    In my book Sean Yates can wear whatever the fuck he likes anyway – he’s earned it.

  13. Sad news Rudi Altig died yesterday. One of the greats. Hopefully he saw and appreciated the current fine crop of German riders. Rudi was a trailblazer for them.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudi_Altig

  14. Just bought a copy. You’ve earned your sales commission, Gianni.

  15. @Oli

    No, no @Oli I think it is in fact a jersey! Although on you or me it might be “just a jersey,” while Yates’ striking physique makes Steve McQueen look like “just an actor!”

  16. Still have my old black Fred Perry merino v-neck from the depths of time. Still fits and still as good as new. Pure quality. The wiggo stuff is nice too.

    We are the Mods.

  17. @David Booth Beers

    Ok, ok! I give in! I still say Yatesy can wear what he likes though.

  18. @Gianni

    Armistead is a vegetarian, fyi

  19. @DVMR

    We are the Mods.

    Scooter and khaki trench for you then, yeah?

  20. I don’t my eyes are that shot, but I don’t see any rainbow bands!

  21. A vegetarian pro athlete. Awesome. I’m not against eating meat, I just strongly oppose the way animals are treated, at least in the U.S., to get that meat. Two things I ponder:

    1) How much pollution, livestock suffering, and petroleum are involved in making sure the NFL has enough 275-350 pound humans to smash into one another, causing permanent brain damage, so that bored Americans can be entertained every week from August until February?

    2) When will we see a pro athlete who eats only what he raises and culls? Despite my exasperation, I’m waiting for the day…

  22. Yates also features in the odd amusing anecdote in John Deering’s “Team On The Run” book, about the Linda McCartney team. That’s well worth a read too.

  23. Ha, I just bought the Yates bio and, as an addendum to my post above, seems that Deering was Sean’s co-author.

  24. @Gianni
    Does he talk about Motoman? Why he and Sky parted ways? Lance?

    @Ron

    A vegetarian pro athlete. Awesome.

    There are heaps of veg/vegan athletes at the top of their sports.

    I’m not against eating meat, I just strongly oppose the way animals are treated.

    It’s one or the other.

  25. @Steve Trice

    Yates also features in the odd amusing anecdote in John Deering’s “Team On The Run” book, about the Linda McCartney team. That’s well worth a read too.

    Definitely, amusing and along with Wide and Legless (also very amusing) gives an insight as to how far British professional cycling has come.

  26. @Beers

    @DVMR

    We are the Mods.

    Scooter and khaki trench for you then, yeah?

    Yes please. Had the scooter but not the parka. Was part of the revival in the 80s/90s. Happy days

  27. @brett

    @Gianni
    Does he talk about Motoman? Why he and Sky parted ways? Lance?

    Unfortunately not. Like the Kelly effort it is distinctly light on any insight into doping as I recall.

    On the other hand it is a very good read about life as a domestique and what motivates people in that role.

    I once asked Jens Voigt who he thought was the best DS around and he nominated Yates. I could imagine those two would work well together.

  28. @MangoDave

    Just bought a copy. You’ve earned your sales commission, Gianni.

    You won’t be disappointed. I will be when my commission shows up.

  29. @ChrisO

    @brett

    @Gianni
    Does he talk about Motoman? Why he and Sky parted ways? Lance?

    Unfortunately not. Like the Kelly effort it is distinctly light on any insight into doping as I recall.

    On the other hand it is a very good read about life as a domestique and what motivates people in that role.

    I once asked Jens Voigt who he thought was the best DS around and he nominated Yates. I could imagine those two would work well together.

    ChrisO is correct, no discussion of doping. The Motorola years are discussed and Yates stayed on riding another year to help Lance when he first came to Europe but retired before Lance made his post-cancer comeback. He did eventually DS for Discovery team, maybe for a year. He and Lance are still friends.

    He does discuss being forced to quit at Sky and how much it pissed him off. I’d have to reread that part but he does intimate the Sky thing was doping related, which it obviously was despite the public statement Sky put out.

    Well worth reading if you can get your hands on this book.

  30. @ChrisO

    I once asked Jens Voigt who he thought was the best DS around and he nominated Yates. I could imagine those two would work well together.

    Those two were cut from the same bolt. They would have done some damage if they were racing on the same team.

  31. @ChrisO

    @brett

    @Gianni
    Does he talk about Motoman? Why he and Sky parted ways? Lance?

    Unfortunately not. Like the Kelly effort it is distinctly light on any insight into doping as I recall.

    On the other hand it is a very good read about life as a domestique and what motivates people in that role.

    I once asked Jens Voigt who he thought was the best DS around and he nominated Yates. I could imagine those two would work well together.

    Yeah, Kelly does address the PDM fuck up with the intravenous “rehydration bags” being improperly stored, but that’s about it. Kimmage is much more forthcoming on the subject.

  32. @Gianni

    He does discuss being forced to quit at Sky and how much it pissed him off. I’d have to reread that part but he does intimate the Sky thing was doping related, which it obviously was despite the public statement Sky put out.

    I’ve read and listened (WhisperSync for Kindle is great) to about a third of the book today. The way Yates tells it, he quit Sky because Brailsford was telling him how difficult it was getting to defend his position in the team given his association with dopers (i.e. Armstrong). It would be great to hear DB’s version of how that conversation panned out. Personally I can live with “I didn’t dope” comments, but I struggle to believe his assertions of obliviousness to it going on around him.

  33. Two books I’ve read recently. The Kelly book is his original bio, published in 1986. Very cool old school info and really illustrates Kelly’s root as a poor farm boy.

    Alpe D’huez is simply a great book. I bought this after seeing the Tour on L’Alpe, but wondered how Cossins could fill a whole book about one summit finish. He uses the mountain’s 1976 edition as a framework (think a non-fiction version of The Rider) to hit on a number of stories. Fast reading.

  34. He still looks impressive, but he clearly is not eating that cake/yogurt/heartattackinabowl thingy anymore.

  35. It’s rumoured that he had to quit Sky as a result of the hear attack in a baguette thing…

  36. @wiscot

    Sad news Rudi Altig died yesterday. One of the greats. Hopefully he saw and appreciated the current fine crop of German riders. Rudi was a trailblazer for them.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudi_Altig

    Thanks for posting this, @wiscot. Gents, in the Wikipedia article that @wiscot has linked to, there’s a fine description (under the ‘Jacques Anquetil’ subheader) about Altig’s Trofeo Baracchi win, together with monsieur Chrono himself. (There are some beautiful musings on the same race in ‘The Rider’, too, as most of you will know…)

    So what do you do when you’re teamed up with Jacques Anquetil in a time trial? You give him a push, that’s what…

    And what do you do when you’re riding the 1967 edition of Paris-Roubaix with the Prophet on your wheel? You give him a guided tour of the pain cave, that’s what…

    RIP Rudi. Truly one of the greats.

  37. Speaking of wikipedia – on the entry for Sean Yates –

    Still reads “For a rouleur Yates climbed very well for his weight.”

    Is anyone from this parish responsible? Respect, if so.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Yates

  38. @wiscot

    Stumbled across this: I’d actually never seen this footage before:

    The sound track is ludicrous and the commentary is in Italian (so no clue; perhaps Pedale Forchetta will chip in at some point…), but the footage, while grainy, is amazing. Altig pushing Anquetil hard and losing his own speed in the process, then sprinting to come ahead of him again to put him out of the wind, then pushing him some more, etc… He looks indefatigable.

  39. @ErikdR

    Thanks, that was amazing!

  40. @Oli

    Cheers – and yes, what an incredibly strong rider Rudi Altig must have been in his day. You may already have read it (in which case, my apologies), but this quote from the Wikipedia article mentioned by @Wiscot could almost serve as narrated voice-over for the clip (author: Rene deLatour):

    “Generally, in a race of the Barrachi type, the changes are very rapid, with stints of no more than 300 yards. Altig was at the front when I started the check – and he was still there a minute later. Something must be wrong. Altig wasn’t even swinging aside to invite Anquetil through… Suddenly, on a flat road, Anquetil lost contact and a gap of three lengths appeared between the two partners. There followed one of the most sensational things I have ever seen in any form of cycle racing during my 35 years’ association with the sport – something which I consider as great a physical performance as a world hour record or a classic road race win.

    Altig was riding at 30mph at the front – and had been doing so for 15 minutes. When Anquetil lost contact, he had to ease the pace, wait for his partner to go by, push him powerfully in the back, sprint to the front again after losing 10 yards in the process, and again settle down to a 30mph stint at the front. Altig did not do this just once, but dozens of times… “

  41. @ErikdR

    @wiscot

    Stumbled across this: I’d actually never seen this footage before:

    The sound track is ludicrous and the commentary is in Italian (so no clue; perhaps Pedale Forchetta will chip in at some point…), but the footage, while grainy, is amazing. Altig pushing Anquetil hard and losing his own speed in the process, then sprinting to come ahead of him again to put him out of the wind, then pushing him some more, etc… He looks indefatigable.

    Holy Shit! That’s incredible. Maitre Jacques was called that mainly on account of his TT abilities. I’ve ridden a bunch of 2-up TTs in my time and nothing, nothing is worse than being mismatched or getting pushed by your partner. That must have been humiliating for Anquetil. No offense to Altig, but the Frenchman must have been having a really bad day. Thanks for finding and posting. What a beast Altig was.

    Oh, and not the socks – white and short. As it should be. Look and learn.

  42. @wiscot

    Ha! Yes, I couldn’t help noticing that, too (about the white socks, I mean). Spot on.

    Of course, in those days – and not unlike Ford T cars a few decades earlier – cycling shoes could be obtained in any color you liked, as long as it was black.

    And yes: Anquetil must have had one of the worst days of his career there. Still, hats off to the late, great Rudi Altig.

  43. @ErikdR

    @wiscot

    Ha! Yes, I couldn’t help noticing that, too (about the white socks, I mean). Spot on.

    Of course, in those days – and not unlike Ford T cars a few decades earlier – cycling shoes could be obtained in any color you liked, as long as it was black.

    And yes: Anquetil must have had one of the worst days of his career there. Still, hats off to the late, great Rudi Altig.

    Anquetil must have been mortified by his performance.

    Just got a pair of all-black Shimano R5 shoes. They have perforations but I’m thinking of doing some modifications to make then a tad bigger. Black shoes with nice ventilation holes. Old school style.

  44. @wiscot

    *Dylan Moran voice*: “Words, words you give me… Where’s the cake?”

    Or: “Picture(s) of said shoes, please?”

    I’m picking up my new, 40 year old Peugeot frame this weekend. Am seriously considering getting my hands on a pair of old-school, black, perforated cycling shoes to don once I get that particular project out on the road – so I’d appreciate some inspiration.

  45. @ErikdR

    @wiscot

    Ha! Yes, I couldn’t help noticing that, too (about the white socks, I mean). Spot on.

    Of course, in those days – and not unlike Ford T cars a few decades earlier – cycling shoes could be obtained in any color you liked, as long as it was black.

    And yes: Anquetil must have had one of the worst days of his career there. Still, hats off to the late, great Rudi Altig.

    1962 first time he won was with Altig. Extract from Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape…..

    “Two or three days before the race, we should have gone out training, but it was raining heavily, so Jaques didn’t want to go out” Altig recalls with a degree of relish. “So I went out on my own, and I found a road tunnel that was being repaired, and I rode up and down inside that for three hours. I was angry, because Jacques hadn’t prepared as seriously as he normally would. The Baracchi Trophy was an important race, so I said “If he’s not going to train, then he won’t forget this race in a hurry because I want to win”.

    Goes on to describe that Anquetil cracked around 70 Km. By the finish Anquetil was so spent he failed to negotiate the final corner onto the track and went straight on into the crowd. He was taken straight off to hospital but fortunately for the pair the time was taken at the entrance to the stadium so they still won.

  46. Evening job to clean these post L’eroica Brit last weekend ready for NL.

    There we a few stands at the jumble with a whole pile of old shoes. Do I sense that either there will be a mass attendance next year or I will be going with an order book!

  47. @Teocalli

    @ErikdR

    @wiscot

    Ha! Yes, I couldn’t help noticing that, too (about the white socks, I mean). Spot on.

    Of course, in those days – and not unlike Ford T cars a few decades earlier – cycling shoes could be obtained in any color you liked, as long as it was black.

    And yes: Anquetil must have had one of the worst days of his career there. Still, hats off to the late, great Rudi Altig.

    1962 first time he won was with Altig. Extract from Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape…..

    “Two or three days before the race, we should have gone out training, but it was raining heavily, so Jaques didn’t want to go out” Altig recalls with a degree of relish. “So I went out on my own, and I found a road tunnel that was being repaired, and I rode up and down inside that for three hours. I was angry, because Jacques hadn’t prepared as seriously as he normally would. The Baracchi Trophy was an important race, so I said “If he’s not going to train, then he won’t forget this race in a hurry because I want to win”.

    Goes on to describe that Anquetil cracked around 70 Km. By the finish Anquetil was so spent he failed to negotiate the final corner onto the track and went straight on into the crowd. He was taken straight off to hospital but fortunately for the pair the time was taken at the entrance to the stadium so they still won.

    Fabulous story! Love the Altig strategy on training – raining? Find a tunnel.

  48. @Teocalli

    Re Altig: Awesome! Massive helpings of determination and sheer V.

    Re shoes: Nice!

    Re jumble: FWIW, I’d certainly like to attend at some point – next year sounds good. When/where is that going to be, exactly? (Or rather: what is the exact name of the event? I’ll Google it once I know what I’m looking for. Cheers!)

  49. @ErikdR

    @Teocalli

    Re Altig: Awesome! Massive helpings of determination and sheer V.

    Re shoes: Nice!

    Re jumble: FWIW, I’d certainly like to attend at some point – next year sounds good. When/where is that going to be, exactly? (Or rather: what is the exact name of the event? I’ll Google it once I know what I’m looking for. Cheers!)

    See http://eroicabritannia.co.uk I’m guessing that next year will be the w/e 16th June. I hope so ‘coz I’ve already booked the hotel for that weekend. Entries usually open in January but if you register interest on the website they are very proactive in setting out email updates.

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