Simon Yates: The world champion who is a man of mystery

UCI World Track Cycling Championships 2013

  • Venue: Minsk Arena, Minsk
  • Date: 20-24 February 2013
  • Coverage details: Watch on BBC Two, Red Button, BBC Sport website & mobiles. Listen on Radio 5 live sports extra. Online text commentaries. Watch again on iPlayer

The first question on most people's lips as they watched Britain's Simon Yates clinch the world points race title with a thrilling win in Minsk must have been: "Simon who?"

But if seeing the largely unknown and previously unheralded 20-year-old win a gold medal and a grab a rainbow jersey surprised many, it was nothing compared to the shock I gave the secretary of his cycling club when I rang to tell him about Yates' triumph.

Great Britain world track championships medals so far

Day One: Steven Burke, Ed Clancy, Andy Tennant, Sam Harrison (Team pursuit silver), Becky James and Vicky Williamson (team sprint bronze)

Day Two: Laura Trott, Dani King and Elinor Barker (team pursuit gold), Becky James (500m time trial bronze)

Day Three: Jason Kenny (keirin gold), Simon Yates (points race gold)

It took some time for the news to sink in for Peter Roscoe. A member of Bury Clarion Cycling Club since 1949, the delighted 78-year-old could scarcely believe he was being called from Belarus to be told that his tiny club now have their very own world champion.

"Gee-whizz. I am stunned, absolutely stunned," said Roscoe, who knew Yates was with the British squad but did not think he would be competing on Friday. He spent the evening watching a recording of Martyn Irvine's famous rides from Thursday night instead.

"I am gobsmacked and totally knocked out to hear he has won. It is amazing - I just thought Simon was there getting the experience."

So did everyone else. Instead, Yates marked his first senior World Championships with a winner's medal to add to the trophy collection he started when he was named Bury Clarion's 'Trackman of the Year' in 2004 - the year he first ventured on to the track.

"Simon has been with us since he was 11 and he is now an honorary member," Roscoe added. "His father John has been a member for about 20 years and first brought Simon and his twin brother Adam down to Manchester Velodrome to go on the track on Friday nights."

Who is Simon Yates?

Simon Yate
  • Born on 7 August 1992
  • Originally from Bury, now based in Manchester at the British Cycling Academy
  • Won madison gold with Dan McLay in the 2010 Junior World championships
  • Won team pursuit bronze on World Cup debut in Beijing in 2011
  • Won the British madison title with Mark Christian in January 2012
  • Finished sixth on Stage Six of the 2012 Tour of Britain and 50th overall
  • Set to compete in the world track championship madison with Owain Doull on Sunday

That's right, Simon has a twin. And one who is just as determined to make it in cycling. Both boys quickly fell in love with the sport and it is an affair which has endured. Adam has not been so successful but, like Simon, he is trying to carve out a career on a bike and spent last summer with an amateur club in France.

Their will to make their mark is clearly a family trait. Their dad is still regularly in the saddle - and still chasing victories.

On the homepage of Bury Clarion's website  there is a section reporting that Simon is in the GB squad for these World Championships. Directly underneath it is the news that John achieved a second and third place at the Manchester Velodrome 1st Division track meet in mid-February. Not quite a rainbow jersey, then, but Simon would not have won one without him.

"He bought a big van a few years ago so he could transport the boys' bikes around the country, and he has needed it too," added Roscoe. "John and his wife Susan are right behind the twins and they are a remarkable family. It is a big advantage when you have got your parents behind you like they are."

Results, especially for Simon, have justified that commitment. At the age of 15 he followed in his dad's footsteps by collecting a cluster of club titles at Bury Clarion, including hill-climbing champion and in a 10-mile race. "He was way above everybody else in our club," recalls Roscoe. "We've watched him all the time."

Then came national and international recognition - and results.

Analysis

"The points race at the World Championships is a savage event. It was a ride beyond his years, in terms of maturity, from Yates. He knew what he had to do and hung back early on, without scoring in the first four lots of points, because he was playing the waiting game until he could take a lap and score more points at the back end of the race when everyone else had raced their legs off."

Rob Hayles, former Olympian and 5 live analyst

By now part of the endurance academy programme at British Cycling, he became a junior track world champion in 2010 when he teamed up with Dan McLay in the madison, and competed for England at the Commonwealth Games that same year.

More landmarks on the road came when he won a stage of the Tour l'Avenir, a race known as the 'baby Tour de France', and the Salisbury event on the Twining's Pro-Am Tour in 2011. Back on the track, he added the senior British madison title to his CV after partnering Mark Christian in January 2012.

His 40km points race win in Belarus is obviously another step up, and the fact he got his tactics spot on to win gold with his sprint on the last of the 160 laps did not surprise Roscoe one bit.

"He is clever, oh yes. I've noticed that," said Roscoe. "In my opinion he is not going to be a world champion sprinter like Sir Chris Hoy or a world champion road racer like Mark Cavendish, but he will win lots of races by being clever.

"In the scratch race at the Glasgow Revolution meeting in February, Simon pulled the same trick that got Irvine the win for Ireland on Thursday. He tried to escape and got run down by Steven Burke before the line, but it was a good example of the courage he has got to go with his intelligence - that is what he is like.

"He is a level-headed kid too. I know what he was like as a boy and, having seen him interviewed on TV in the past, I would say he has not changed. You can read body language, can't you?"

Bury's finest?

That will be Reg Harris, a legendary post-war cyclist whom Peter Roscoe recalls going to watch race in Manchester. Unlike Yates, Harris, who died in 1992 aged 72, was not a Bury Clarion member. But he won five world sprint championships, one as an amateur and the rest as a professional. He also won two silver medals at the 1948 Olympics. "At the time he was the only sportsman in Britain winning world championships in any sport," said Roscoe. There is a memorial to Harris's achievements at the Manchester Velodrome.

All in all, Simon sounds like the perfect package - a talented rider who has his head screwed on - so why haven't we heard more about him before now? Roscoe says self-promotion is not his thing.

"It is hard to get hold of Simon to find out how he is getting on because he does not push himself through any publicity," he explained. "And his dad does not talk about him or his brother much. He says he cannot get the information out of them about what they are up to either!"

It will be a lot harder for Simon to go under the radar from now on, though. He has the chance of a second world title in a week when he partners Owain Doull in the madison on Sunday afternoon, and Roscoe will definitely be tuning in. "I'm not going to miss him this time," he said.