Simon Yates is a force to be reckoned with, even though he’s not a household name

Simon Yates could be considered one of British sport's most underrated stars

Simon Yates could be considered one of British sport’s most underrated stars (Picture: Getty)

Is Simon Yates the greatest underrated male cyclist this country has ever produced? No need to reply. I say yes, he is. I would even go so far as to say that he is one of the most underrated male athletes in all of sports.

Think a world before 2012 when Sir Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France that changed the history books and the public’s level of expectation for a generation.

Back then, a cyclist to win one of the prestigious three Grand Tour – the Vuelta a Espana – to get on the podium in another – the Giro d’Italia – and the top ten of the Tour de France, would have been legendary.

105th Giro d'Italia 2022 - Stage 16

Simon Yates’ victory in the 2018 Tour of Spain made headlines on both the front and back covers (Image: Getty)

While his victory at the Tour of Spain in 2018 rightly grabbed headlines on both the cover and the back cover, his achievements have largely been swept away by a tide of past British Grand Tour dominance. Consider his fifth and sixth career stage wins at this year’s Giro, for example. “Its what?” you ask. I agree.

We’ve gotten so used to Mark Cavendish’s multiple Tour de France victories and one British rider after another on the top step of the podium in Paris that anything else has become almost commonplace. Lest you have any doubts about the tone of this column so far, it’s anything but.

Yates came into this, his fifth Giro d’Italia, as the overall favorite. By the time he crashed and capitulated on stage four and slipped out of the realistic general classification, he had already clinched a stage win and was ten seconds from a second win. He retired yesterday, unable to shake off the knee injury sustained in that stage four crash, but his point had once again been made.

The fact that the first stage win was in a discipline where Yates had to work hard over the years, the time trial, ahead of other experts in the field, was as remarkable as the win itself.

Simon Yates now has five times more stage wins on the Grand Tour than Bradley Wiggins (Image: Getty)

The Bury-born rider now has five times more stage wins in the Grand Tour than Wiggins, more than three times that of Geraint Thomas and five times that of Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart.

In fact, only Cavendish and Chris Froome have recorded more victories in the three-week races under a union flag banner, and both are exceptional figures in the history books of the sport, across all nationalities.

Yates is also a world champion on the track, having beaten the world’s best in the points race in 2013.

So why the lack of public recognition? The cynic was able to point to his 2016 doping ban, but even the UCI conceded the breach was “unintentional” and the result of a filing error by the 29-year-old’s team.

No, the key difference between Yates and most other modern British cycling superstars is that he didn’t go through the champions factory, GB Academy, nor did he sign with Team Sky, now Team Ineos.

Such is the superb PR of the first UK-based Tour de France winning team that most other victories are lost in a jumble of foreign teams and continental races.

That’s what it means to be spoiled for success in a sport that’s not football in this country. A player in the middle of the table, in the middle of the club, can be a household name, while even multiple victories at the very highest level of cycling will hardly give you a correct answer on the Christmas Pub Quiz.

Yates is clearly not going to win this Giro d’Italia. He might not even be in the Tour de France. But despite leaving Italy with four and a half stages still to be decided, he takes home two stage wins. Aside from last year’s Tour de France and Cavendish’s magnificent comeback, the last Grand Tour in which a British rider won multiple stages was the Giro d’Italia four years ago, when Froome won two and Yates himself three.

And here’s the thing. With sports coverage filled with the horror of pitch invasions and violence, it’s easy to forget that there’s much to celebrate or even much sporting action to enjoy.

But unless we shout about the sport’s triumphs and drama off the pitch, we’ll struggle to celebrate many of them in the future. Champions make champions, but only if we know who they are.

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General Sports Simon Yates is a force to be reckoned with, even though he's not a household name

Nate Jones

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