When Simon Yates claimed gold in the points race at the UCI Track World Championships in Minsk, propelling himself into the limelight for the first time, few would have imagined what awaited just five years later.
In fact, few could have imagined what awaited just a few months later when, back on the road, the then 21-year-old claimed two stage wins at the Tour de l’Avenir and, more impressively, bettered the likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome on the Tour of Britain’s first summit finish, Haytor, to claim third place overall.
It prompted a move to Orica-GreenEDGE alongside twin brother Adam, but when we spoke to Simon at the end of that whirlwind year we found a grounded rider, ambitious for the future but keen not to get too far ahead of himself or forget his roots.
He admitted in a wide-ranging interview that he was lucky to have grown up in Greater Manchester, relatively close to the National Velodrome, and likewise having Adam alongside him for ‘an extra push’ in the cold, winter months for training.
At just 21-years-old, the impression was then – and always has been since – that Simon Yates is a man with his head screwed on.
Indeed, the move to Orica-GreenEDGE proved exactly that. It is no secret Team Sky were also potential suitors for the twins, but they spotted a greater opportunity for development with the Australian team.
A look at other young riders from the Team Sky roster at that time is an indicator of where Yates might now be – Ian Boswell, Joe Dombrowski, Sebastian Henao and Peter Kennaugh were among Sky’s young stars at the time.
Instead, Simon joined Orica-GreenEDGE and after a huge slice of fortune he found himself at his debut Tour de France the following July – a positive doping test for Daryl Impey (who was later cleared of wrongdoing as it was caused by contaminated, over-the-counter water tablets), combined with an injury to Simon and an enforced change of programme, left him free to race the Tour de France.
We caught up with him ahead of that race, at the Grand Depart in Leeds, and found seven successful months on the WorldTour had not changed his outlook.
"He never once wavered from his plans of learning and taking things day by day; there were no wild dreams of solo attacks and stage wins in the Alps"
Here was a rider, genuinely surprised by his Tour inclusion – something he had never even dared to dream about, and something he was determined to take full advantage of from a learning perspective.
He never once wavered from his plans of learning and taking things day by day; there were no wild dreams of solo attacks and stage wins in the Alps.
He was also, however, confident and happy to engage with fans and media – a side less seen in Adam, with the other Yates twin less in the public spotlight. During one opportune pre-race posing for a photo by the team bus, he ribbed one photographer’s failure to take his lens cap off in time.
Remaining grounded has served him well too – and his team deserve great credit for their role in that.
It meant he swatted away what could have been a disastrous turn of events in 2016, when he failed a doping test through his own team’s negligence in filling in forms rather than any wrongdoing on his part.
That it was broken in the press before the team had publicly announced it, and that the team took full responsibility, could have broken his resolve.
He had to watch from afar as Adam claimed the white jersey at the Tour de France, a race Simon was supposed to have been joining him at, but he bounced back in brilliant style.
Sticking by the team, he claimed a stage win at the Vuelta a Espana and finished sixth overall – his best Grand Tour finish at the time.
The following year, a white jersey of his own arrived at the Tour de France, alongside a seventh-place finish overall, which all teed up this stunning year.
"It takes a special rider to win any Grand Tour, but to do so on the back of the physical and emotional disappointment of the Giro d’Italia just months earlier is a phenomenal effort that should not be understated"
The GreenEDGE team, now Mitchelton-Scott, have always been careful to keep the pressure off their three young GC hopefuls – the Yates twins and Esteban Chaves. Even when all three were winning white jerseys and competing at the sharp end in Grand Tours.
It is a tactic which has paid dividends too, and the team deserve full credit for that. It is probably a large part of how easily Simon was able to bounce back after what he admitted was ‘heartbreak’ at the Giro.
His three stage wins and extended stay in the pink jersey proved his potential but, after falling away in the final two mountain stages, they ended up counting for nothing as far as the GC was concerned.
He was tearful when he finished and vowed to come back stronger from the bitter experience of stage 19 and yet, from Yates’ mouth, they did not seem empty words.
Nevertheless, it must have been on his mind when he raced the Vuelta a Espana and found himself in the lead in the final week again.
This time, he had Adam alongside him though and in superb form too after bouncing back from his own Tour de France disappointment.
And after Adam ramped up the pace, Simon delivered two superb rides in Andorra – a second place and third place extending his overall lead and banishing the memories of the Giro.
It takes a special rider to win any Grand Tour, but to do so on the back of the physical and emotional disappointment of the Giro d’Italia just months earlier is a phenomenal effort that should not be understated.
There are seasoned pros who could not bounce back from such an experience that quickly, but then Yates has always been a man beyond his years. At 21, with the world at his feet, he spoke sensibly and tempered expectations. At 26, a Grand Tour winner for the first time, expectations are through the roof, and yet you get the impression it will not faze one of Britain’s most talented cyclists one bit.