Anatomy of a Photo: Milan-San Remo 1983

Sean Yates. Photo: Graham Watson

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.

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54 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: Milan-San Remo 1983”

  1. @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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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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