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The day I wore yellow: Sean Yates remembers leading the Tour de France 25 years on

Joe Robinson
1 Jul 2019

Cyclist catches up with the Brit to discuss his memories of wearing the Malliot Jaune 25 years on

The Tour de France is visiting Brussels this year with the Belgian capital laying the yellow carpet to welcome cycling's biggest race for a historical occasion. This year marks 100 years of the yellow jersey and also, more importantly for the small frit-loving nation, 50 years since the greatest, Eddy Merckx, took home his first Malliot Jaune, one of a record-equalling five throughout his career.

This year is not just a momentous occasion for the Belgians but also us Britons who will be celebrating an anniversary of our own.

It has been a quarter of a century since Sean Yates rode into yellow at the 1994 Tour de France, becoming the third Brit in history to wear cycling's most iconic jersey.

Cyclist recently caught up with Yates to chat about taking yellow, how he lost the jersey and where that jersey is now.

Cyclist: It’s the 100th anniversary of the yellow jersey and the 25th anniversary since you wore it, what do you remember from the day?

Sean Yates: That year was particularly special because the Tour came to the UK for a couple of stages. I was on a high after the UK trip back in France. It was the longest stage of the race and I felt good at the start of the race, in fact, I had felt good all year.

The day I took yellow was the longest stage of the 1994 race but pretty non-discript until 25km to go. It suddenly came alive and, being long, people were tired. I jumped across into a break with Frankie Andreu and we got a gap on the peloton.

We all started to ride straight away because the yellow jersey team missed out. There were plenty of big hitters in that group, Gianluca Bortolami, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, all strong riders and all fully committed.

We were motoring along because we all had our own interests in that group and then Bortolami jumped alone.

We were not aware of how close Bortalami was to the yellow. I thought the main danger was the peloton and Johan Museeuw, who was in yellow, behind. In this day and age, the DS would be on the radio warning about Bortolami.

When he jumped away, everyone suddenly leant on me and Frankie because we had the numerical advantage.

We went hell for leather to keep the bunch away and in doing so, we brought Bortolami back a little, who probably had no idea how close to the jersey he was, and eventually I took the jersey by one second.

Although, it wasn’t till we got the evening results that we noticed I’d only taken the jersey by a single second.

Cyc: How did it feel to pull on that yellow jersey, arguably the biggest result of your career?

SY: The Tour is the one race everybody knows about it. If I tell people I led that race and wore yellow, then it's kind of like ‘he must be half decent, that’s not easy’.

I also got the yellow in my 13th year as a a pro so it was a fitting culmination to my career especially knowing I didn’t have much time left in me, and spending so much time as a domestique working for others, too.

Me taking the jersey also made the front page of a daily paper so it was pretty big news considering it wasn't a big sport here, like it is today. The public may not have necessarily watched the rest of the race but knew what I did.

Although I must say, it was not a race win so I didn’t get the elation of raising the arms in victory.

CYC: There was also some controversy about how you lost the jersey the next day, too?

SY: I took the jersey from Museeuw by about 10 seconds. The next day there were intermediate sprints for time bonuses which he was obviously going to aim for.

Phil Andersen was trying to help me contest and apparently, there was a bit of argy-bargy trying to block Museeuw. Museeuw’s teammate Rolf Sorensen didn't like that so he pulled my jersey and slung me back which meant I couldn’t contest the sprint.

But from my point of view, it wasn’t that big a deal because Museeuw was a sprinter anyway so I was always pushing shit uphill to beat him.

CYC: 18 years later, you then led Bradley Wiggins to Britain’s first ever Tour de France win. How special did that feel?

SY: You couldn’t write a better script. I will always be the first Brit to manage the first Brit to win the Tour de France. That’s in the history books.

We raced every race together that year. It was proper game on and he was fully committed and I was on a mission to help him achieve that goal.

That whole year meshes into one, you couldn’t sit back and enjoy it but I had the passion to do that job. It was a culmination of my career as a DS, I was at my peak then.

CYC: You eventually sold your own jersey to Wiggins which then subsequently helped you later in life.

SY: As it transpired, I’d given Brad a few jerseys but then he wanted my yellow which I eventually sold him to him.

Six months later I had a bad accident. I went through the NHS for treatment, had some operations then I had a choice to wait two years to be fully sorted or go private.

It was affecting me so I used that money from the yellow jersey on it. You’re always reluctant to spend money but realistically, it was only money I got for selling a bit of cloth.