LIEGE, Belgium (Reuters) - A modest Simon Yates believes he is still a long way from winning the Tour de France but the Briton already knows what he has to do to get his chance to wear the yellow jersey on the Champs Elysees.
The 22-year-old could have joined Team Sky, who produced Britain’s two Tour de France winners in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, but he went with his twin brother Adam to Australian outfit Orica GreenEDGE.
The Yates brothers, who both have the abilities to mature into grand Tour contenders, would probably have started as domestiques to Froome and Australian Richie Porte in the three-week races — not the best way to learn the ropes of being a team leader, Simon believes.
“I wanted to learn how to race. I don’t think when you’re working at the front, you’re learning how to race,” Simon, who is expected to race the Tour with his brother this year, told Reuters in an interview ahead of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic.
“You might get stronger because you ride in the front all the time but you don’t learn how to race, you don’t see how the guys who win races race, you don’t see how they win.
“You don’t know what goes on at the squeaky end of the race.”
Simon, who moved to Spain for better training conditions with his brother, has impressed since he turned professional with Orica-GreenEDGE last year, finishing 12th and fifth overall in the demanding Tour of the Basque country.
The year before he went pro, Simon won two stages of the Tour de l’Avenir, a famous Under-23 race, also ending up third overall in the Tour of Britain.
In the Basque country earlier this month, Simon finished ahead France’s Thibaut Pinot — third overall in last year’s Tour — and also beat American Tejay Van Garderen, a rider with two top 5 finishes on the Tour.
“I think we’re in different part in our seasons, you can say I beat some of the best riders in the world but you don’t know,” Simon said.
“The older guys are racing for the Tour, I’m on a different schedule. It still feels a long way away to be a contender in a grand tour.”
Simon got his first shot at a grand tour when he started last year’s Tour de France but it was more to get a feel of the world’s greatest bike race.
He was pulled out by his team on the second rest day.
“I was going to do 12 days anyway and then I persuaded Whitey (sports director Matt White) to let me stay a few more days. I was tired, I was not really going to be in the race anymore,” he explained.
“It was the right call I was disappointed for personal reasons but in the long term it was the right call.”
Simon believes he is well equipped to continue his progression in the professional world after being prepared to deal with this environment at the British Cycling Academy.
“The Academy is set up like a pro team –- the steps to be a professional are already in place, if you want information there’s someone there to help you.”
Simon, who also shone on the track becoming the points race world champion in 2013, does not however expect to get back on the track.
“At the moment I’d say no because the events that I’m good at are not on the Olympic program. With my commitment to the road it’s not really possible,” he said.
“But I’d never say never, if the points race, scratch race, the Madison if they came back into the Olympic medals maybe I’d reconsider. That’s the only thing that could change my mind.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar