Original interview produced in association with RoadCode

It's fair to say that Adam Yates' move from Ineos Grenadiers to UAE Team Emirates in 2023 raised eyebrows throughout the cycling community. Why would a solid GC rider in a team where he had ample opportunity to ride for his own ambitions jump ship to a team already stacked with GC talent, including arguably the top all-around rider in the world in Tadej Pogačar, to join an ever-expanding group of luxury domestiques? Would it spell the end for his own career trajectory, as he rode in service of the two-time Tour de France winner?

Then, 2023 happened. Yates enjoyed arguably the best season of his career - a stage win on Jebel Hafeet at the UAE Tour and a stage and GC victory in the Tour de Romandie, were followed by a stint in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, following an incredible head-to-head with brother Simon on stage 1, and a place on the final podium - his best ever performance at the Tour. A late-season World Tour win at the GP Montreal was the cherry on top of an already successful season.

The naysayers may have fallen silent in the face of the evidence - there's no denying that it really was a cracking season for the man from Bury - yet the critical voices have already begun to sound their discontent early in 2024. As Yates raised his arms in another desert race earlier this week, rumours began to circulate about his desire to lead the team at the Tour. Is there discontent in the camp of the Emirati team, as many would have us believe?

I spoke to Adam back in December on behalf of RoadCode to try and find out what makes him tick, how it's working at UAE, and about his relationship on and off the bike with Tadej Pogačar.  

Training camp life (image credit: RoadCode)

After a number of years at GreenEdge and a couple at Ineos, it seemed as though the move to UAE has really sparked a change in Yates. When asked what exactly was working so well for him at UAE, Yates replies: 'I think it's a little bit of everything. I mean, the team obviously has a lot of faith in me, and a lot of trust, and I like to be super honest with the team, you know, when I'm feeling good, when I'm feeling bad. And we set off with a plan from the start of season. And we go from there. So, for me the consistency with the team and the race calendar really helps a lot. And I hope for the same next year.'

Of course, the added years of experience must be a contributing factor to 2023's success, and I ask if Yates feels he's improved physically, too. 'Again, it's little bit of everything,' he says, pragmatic. 'I'm getting older and older, and also the levels are getting higher and higher. But I don't know, I feel like I'm coming into my good years.

'You know, there’s a lot of young guys coming up now. They're coming out of juniors and under-23 and they win straight away. But I feel like I had a bit more of a traditional upbringing. And I feel like every year I'm getting better. It’s just that the levels are also getting super high. So I just hope to be at a super high level next year. And hopefully I'll win some more bike races.'

Image credit: Tour of Oman

Yates is non-commital when I ask about his personal goals for 2024. 'I’ll have my opportunities along the way,' he says. 'At the start of the year, I'll do some of the Middle East races like Oman, and UAE. And then see where we end up. Obviously, I’ll go to the Tour again, with Tadej, and help him win. Last year was a really nice experience; even if we didn't manage to win, we had a lot of fun as a team. And we didn’t do too bad. We were second and third on GC, and won some stages along the way. Okay, we missed the big goal. But next year, hopefully we can come back stronger, and at a higher level, and try and take that top step.

Riding with the King

'He always wants to go full gas, whether it's in training or racing, and we have to hold him back a little bit.'

Yates' primary responsibility outside of his own ambitions is to support Tadej Pogačar in his mission to win a third Tour de France. I asked him how he finds his working relationship with the Slovenian wonderkid.

'To work with Tadej is super easy for me. He always wants to go full gas, whether it's in training or racing, and even in a race sometimes, it's like, not the best moment to go full gas, but he's on the radio saying "oh maybe we go now" and, you know, we have to kind of hold him back a little bit. But that's his style, and that’s his personality. And that's what helps him win all these bike races, you know; he wins a lot throughout the year, not just one part of the year. So for me he’s super easy to work with.'

Yates and Pogačar have quickly developed an understanding (image credit: RoadCode)

When I ask if Yates thinks he can teach Pogačar anything, he laughs, and gives an unexpected answer.

'I would like to teach him about going on holiday!' he laughs. 'Because this year, he didn't do much holidaying. But this I'm an expert in. We have a joke, because every year I go on a nice holiday, and this year, he's always doing criteriums and doing media events and all the press events. And I just tell him not to, "You're still young, and you still have some energy." And it catches up quickly, you know?'

Has Yates been able to learn anything from his younger counterpart?

'He teaches me a lot. I mean, you know, he's young, but he's got a lot of experience, especially in the big races, when you have to perform under pressure. Like I said before he’s super easy to work with, and if he's happy to go full gas all the time, we just try and help him win whenever we can.'

This year, Pogačar will go for the Giro-Tour double, with the intent to win both - a feat that hasn't been achieved since Marco Pantani in 1998. Yates isn't phased by the lofty ambition of his teammate. 'If he wants to do it, I think let him do it. He wins all these bike races for a reason. He's obviously thought about it, he’s spoken to management about it. And he’s got the green light to do it. So for me if he wants to go full gas for Giro and the Tour then let him.'

It's not the journey, it's the destination

'I would like to go to the Giro, as a last shot for a GC.'

Moving the focus back to Yates' own career, 2024 will mark the Lancastrian's 11th season as a part of the pro peloton. I ask whether there any races that he hasn't done yet that he'd like to target.

'Good question,' says Yates, before taking a considerable pause to ponder his answer. 'I would say, in terms of Grand Tours, I’ve done the Tour quite a lot, I’ve done the Vuelta quite a lot, but I’ve only been to the Giro one time. So maybe in the future, I would like to go to the Giro, as a last shot for a GC. I'm getting older and older these days, it's not so easy to keep up with the young guys. But while I'm still at a high level, maybe one year I can do GC at a Grand Tour for myself again. We’ll see. But otherwise I’m happy just going full gas.'

He doesn't rate any of his wins as more special than any other, though. 'Every win’s quite special to be honest. When you sit at home on the couch and you watch on TV, it looks quite easy sometimes for these guys to win, but every win's really difficult. So whether it's in a smaller race or the Tour de France, it doesn't matter which race it is, it’s really not easy to win and it's getting harder and harder. So for me, every one is special.'

Yellow jersey joy - Yates takes the maillot jaune on stage 1 of the 2023 Tour de France (image credit: RoadCode)

When Yates came through as a young rider British Cycling was booming, as a result of the Olympic effect and I press Yates for his thoughts on the decline in the domestic scene. 'It's a shame really, you see quite a lot of different nations, all these young kids coming through, whether it's from the development teams or from youth academies so it’s something for sure that the UK could step up with,' he reflects. 'But it's not easy with the money and also the races, there are not many races going on in the UK these days. Quite a lot of stuff getting cancelled. Hopefully, racing can come back and we can create a bit more of a scene again.'

'The only thing I do in the off-season is go on holiday. But full gas!'

Yates is dismissive of the notion of hobbies and interests beyond cycling, stating that 'we’re so full gas in a season. It's better to just go home and your friends and family. The only thing I do in the off-season is go on holiday. But full gas!'

Asking about his favourite destinations is eye-opening. 'Where do you want me to start?' he laughs. 'I’ve been everywhere! This year I went to Bora Bora, French Polynesia, I was there for two weeks, the year before that I was in Singapore, then Cambodia and Vietnam. Before that, it was the COVID year so I couldn’t go anywhere, so I went to the Maldives. The year before that I went to Hong Kong, and Bali. One year I went to Seoul, South Korea. Kyoto, Tokyo.'

Perhaps rather than where he would most like to race, a more appropriate question would have been where else would he like to travel...

'Yeah, exactly,' Yates agrees. 'Honestly if you want my real answer I want to go somewhere like a little bit off the beaten track. I was looking recently at Bhutan. Quite a strange one. But it looks like it's got a lot of culture and I visit a lot of places you’d never visit, you know, I’d never visit Bhutan otherwise, unless I book flight and go there. So this would be quite exciting. So yeah, it depends, some years I like to do a relaxed holiday, like this year with Bora Bora. But sometimes I like to do a big adventure holiday. So we'll see. We'll see how much free time I have!'

If there was a Tour of Bhutan, this man would ride it (image credit: RoadCode)

 Watch highlights from this interview over at RoadCode:

Road Code
Road Code - One place for the race
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