Last year, former Tour de France stage winner Sean Yates was trimming hedges while the world’s greatest cycling race took place.
This year, though, Yates, who was Lance Armstrong’s team captain back when the four-time Tour winner was still learning the ropes in European cycling, is back on his favorite turf after coming through some hard times.
Life after cycling is not as easy as in other, wealthier sports, and Yates, winner of an individual time trial on the Tour in 1988, was forced to return to his first job as a gardener after finding himself jobless and broke
“After I stopped my career in 1996, I took some time off. Then I became sports director for the Linda McCartney team in 2000, but it folded before the start of the 2001 season,” the 43-year-old Briton said.
“I found myself jobless and eventually found work with a third-division Australian team, ItemNova in 2002. But I was never paid and was forced to return to gardening, my first job.”
“Last year, during the Tour de France, I was trimming hedges in private gardens. I was far away from cycling and not very happy.”
Then in December, the phone rang. It was 1996 Tour winner Bjarne Riis, who is now in charge of Danish team CSC.
“I said yes before he opened his mouth. I was so happy that someone remembered me that I would have accepted any job,” Yates said.
Riis offered him the chance to become his assistant at CSC, and Yates even found himself in charge of the team for April’s Liége-Bastogne-Liége World Cup classic, which was won by the team’s leader, American Tyler Hamilton.
But, after all that, Yates nearly missed the Tour because of heart problems diagnosed in May, which forced him to spend two weeks in the hospital.
“It’s all clear now and nothing can spoil my joy at being here,” he said. “And I had the pleasure of seeing Lance again. I was his team captain with Motorola at the beginning of his career. We don’t see each other a lot, but we’re good pals. We’ve been through a lot together.”