Simon Yates rides through ups and downs at Liege, aims for Tour

In his first run at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Yates fights his way through climbs, crashes, in what he says is one of his favorite races

ANS, Belgium (VN) — It was a miserable day in Ans. Rain poured down on the Liège-Bastogne-Liège finish, but despite foul weather and a race marred by a late crash, Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) was still happy to be riding in a race he’d admired since childhood.

Perhaps the young man dreamed of winning – and he may have a shot one day – but on Sunday, the 22-year-old was occupied with working for teammates in his first go at “La Doyenne.”

“There was a bit of a danger move up the road so I ended up jumping across to that,” he said.

“Luckily, in the end, we had Esteban [Chaves] in the [next] move … I just sat back and tried to help Gerro [Simon Gerrans] as much as possible.”

Coming off of a fifth-place finish in Vuelta al Pais Vasco in early April, it was clear that Yates would be one of Orica’s go-to riders for the Ardennes. Unfortunately, Gerrans, his team leader, was caught in a crash with 40 kilometers to go, just before the decisive climb of La Redoute.

Then, the Australian captain abandoned after a second crash, only a few kilometers later.

Though Yates didn’t tumble, he was distanced by the peloton.

“I got held up behind it, I was chasing all the way to the top of La Redoute,” he said. “I’d been riding full biscuit – full gas – all the way to the top. By that point I think my race was already done by then.”

But despite finishing 39th, 2:41 behind winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Yates was happy to be part of cycling’s oldest monument.

“Sort of growing up watching them on TV this is like the big week of classics for the climbers,” he said of the Ardennes races. “You know you have your classic specialists, they all love the cobbles, Flanders, Roubaix and stuff.

“This is sort of our sort of week, and I always used to be pretty excited to watch my races, and still get that same feeling when I come to race.”

Yates was humble when asked about his improving form, saying he felt better suited for the Basque Country climbs, where he had happy hunting earlier this month. But even in the Ardennes, which he characterized as “a bit shorter and sharper,” he was a factor early in the day.

And perhaps, he’ll also be part of Orica’s plans for the Tour later this summer.

Again, Yates demurred, but it seems likely that, given his growing climbing prowess, the young Briton will return to France in July, hoping to improve on last year, when he abandoned after stage 15.