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Vuelta a Espana: Brotherly love

Felix Lowe
19 Aug 2016

The Vuelta a Espana has a long tradition in bringing out the best in brothers, says Felix Lowe.

As Adam Yates came within a Chris Froome jog of donning the yellow jersey on Mont Ventoux this July, there was something – or rather, someone – missing: his brother. 

Although they’ve only tackled one Grand Tour together, twins Adam and Simon have fast become a first-class package, famously turning down Team Sky when Sir Dave Brailsford was angling to sign one, but not the other. Having served a ban for the sport’s first case of ‘administrative doping’, when his team doctor failed to apply for an exemption for an asthma drug on his behalf, Simon returns for this month’s Vuelta. 

Should Adam join him for a second stab at a race he first rode in 2014, they wouldn’t be the first set of twins to partake. Peter and Martin Velits – Slovakia’s biggest exports before Sagan came along – turned out for HTC-Columbia in 2010, the year Peter (Velits that is, not Sagan) finished a surprise third – or second when Ezequiel Mosquera was stripped of the place for doping.

When Russia’s Vladimir Efimkin won a stage on the 2007 Vuelta, he insisted his identical twin Alexander was far more talented. The Efimkins rode a combined nine Grand Tours but none simultaneously (despite the odd conspiracy theory). 

Twins aside, the Vuelta’s relationship with brothers dates back to the inaugural edition in 1935 with the unlikely story of Gustaaf and Alfons Deloor. Journeymen cyclists at home in Belgium, they’d gone to Spain with some pals in 1934 to ride the Volta a Catalunya and realised that the competition was not as fierce as in northern Europe (Alfons finished second and Gustaaf ninth). 

Sons of a farming father and a coal mining mother, the brothers grew up in the bleak town of De Klinge where, somewhat serendipitously, they lived in the Spanish quarter. Gustaaf pulverised the field in the first Vuelta and a year later he won again, while a late surge by Alfons saw the pair become the first brothers to finish on the top two rungs of the same Grand Tour.

First, but not the last. After the Spanish Civil War had thwarted Deloor domination, Delio, Pastor and Emilio Rodriguez became the only fraternal trio to feature in the same Grand Tour in 1946, the year after Delio (the Vuelta’s all-time stage record holder with 39) won the race. Five years later, Emilio won the 1950 race ahead of a fourth brother, Manolo.

To this day the Vuelta remains the only Grand Tour to have had any set of brothers – let alone two brother combos – occupying the two top spots of the podium. Andy and Frank Schleck came close in the 2011 Tour but were denied by Cadel Evans, while at the other end of the spectrum, Spanish brothers Igor and Iker Flores managed to make their own little bit of history by becoming the only brothers to each finish the world’s greatest cycling race as lanterne rouge, finishing the race last in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

The Yateses could learn a lot from the plight of the Schlecks – two riders who may have been more successful had they gone their separate ways and not ridden tirelessly in tandem throughout their careers.  

Although devastated by his brother’s absence from the Tour, it didn’t seem to hold Adam back. But should Simon make a similarly strong showing in Spain without Adam, perhaps the pair won’t be so averse to riding for opposing teams in the future. Together or not, one thing is certain: of all the peloton’s current sets of brothers, the Yateses are the most likely to emulate the Rodriguez and Deloor families.

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