Madrid: Simon Yates said he was still “in shock” after bouncing back from “the real heartbreak” of his Giro d’Italia collapse earlier this season to claim his maiden grand tour victory at the Vuelta a Espana yesterday and complete a historic treble for British cyclists.
Yates’s implosion at the Giro in May, just days from the finish in Rome, was spectacular and very public. But after Chris Froome swooped to claim that race in his stead, and Geraint Thomas won the Tour de France in July, Yates’s win in Spain caps an extraordinary season for British Cycling.
Only twice before have riders from the same country won all three of cycling’s grand tours but this is the first time it has been done by three different cyclists.
Yates’s victory, meanwhile, will be the fifth grand tour triumph in a row for Britain, with Froome having also won last year’s Tour and Vuelta.
There were no British winners in any of the first 259 grand tours, yet following Yates’s victory in Madrid this weekend a British rider has now been victorious in nine of the last 20.
Yates, who won by 1 min 46 sec over Spain’s Enric Mas [Quick-Step Floors], became the first British rider from outside of Team Sky to triumph in a grand tour when he crossed the finish line in Madrid.
Quick-Step’s Elia Viviani won the bunch sprint on the Paseo del Prado.
“It feels great,” said the 26-year-old, who rides for Australian team Mitchelton-Scott. “Really unbelievable, I think it’s still sinking in.
“It’s just really unbelievable. I like to race on my instinct and I hope that I continue to do so and achieve more big results like today at the Vuelta a Espana.”
“The day I won on stage 14 is probably my favourite moment from the race, getting your hands in the air, there’s no feeling like winning a bike race and that will hold a special place, but also the first stage in Andorra.
“That was the first day I laid everything on the line to try and win this race and I managed to get a bit of a gap and you start to believe that you may have it, so those two days really stand out for me.
“I came back from real heartbreak from the Giro d’Italia and I am still in shock that I’ve managed to pull it off and it will take a while for it to sink in just what we’ve accomplished. I get really nervous up on the stage but it was a very special moment that I will cherish forever.”
Froome paid tribute to Yates’s achievement, saying: “Simon has looked so strong over the last three weeks.
“It’s great to see him take home the maillot rojo. It’s been a perfect year for British riders.”
Yates’s win will doubtless lead to scepticism in some quarters, completing as it does an extraordinary turnaround for British Cycling to a season that began against a backdrop of controversy with Froome under investigation following an adverse analytical finding for asthma drug salbutamol.
That case was dropped in July by cycling’s world governing body the UCI, with the World Anti-Doping Agency accepting there was no breach.
But with MPs delivering a damning report in the spring, in which they concluded that Team Sky had “crossed an ethical line” by using drugs allowed under anti-doping rules to enhance performance instead of just for medical purposes, it was still a bruising start to the year for Sky and for cycling’s governing body in this country.
Tracey Crouch, the Sports Minister, however, paid tribute to this success: “Simon Yates’s brilliant victory in the Vuelta is the latest success in a phenomenal year for British Cycling, following on from Froome winning the Giro d’Italia and Thomas the Tour de France.
“It is testament to the talent development programme of British Cycling, backed by National Lottery cash, that so many of our riders have become the world-leading cyclists that they are today.
“Their success is helping to encourage many more people get on their bikes and get active. I wish all our riders the best of luck in Innsbruck later this month.”
Julie Harrington, the British Cycling chief executive, added: “We are incredibly fortunate in this country that, with the help of our funding partners UK Sport, the National Lottery, Sport England and HSBC UK, we have been able to support the development of some of the world’s best riders through our performance pathway.”
Yates and his twin brother, Adam, who rode in support of him at the Vuelta, will now go for gold at the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, at the end of the month.