At every training camp in Solvang, CA, he has done the rides with the team. We meet about 2 hours before the prologue time trail at The Tour of California. I expected a pretty short matter of fact interview, but Sean was relaxed, funny and full of wonderful stories.
PEZ: You have been known as a quick descender. I read that when you were with 7-11 you were clocked at about 112 KPH down the Col du Tourmalet. Would you tell me a story where your descending abilities changed the complexion of a race?
Sean: One race comes to mind – and that was the Dauphinй Libйrй in 1990. I think we started the stage in Gap. …we went up this big main road and then we turned right down this descent, and we went straight down the valley road that leads toward the L’Alpe Du Huez. And it was pouring rain and Andy Hampsten was in good shape. And suddenly I had the bright idea…ok I am going to string this out a bit. And I told Dag Otto and Ron Kiefel and Andy…ok I have about 2-3 kilometers before we hit it… we just went. Then we turned right and it was quite a dangerous descent. It was so strung out down that climb that when we hit the other side I started going backwards. Guys from Colombia after only about 6 kilometers – they were going by me and I went as hard as I could up the climb and I got to the top…I think I was about five minutes down.
I then descended down to Grenoble, and I closed that five minute gap back to the leaders on a 15 Kilometer descent. I think that was my best descent ever. I was just flying and it was pouring rain. I was doing 100 Kilometers/hour next to the team car talking. I went by Sean Kelly so fast like they were standing still. That night he actually went to my bike to see if I had something special on it.
I felt like I needed to descend well because I could not climb. So I had to make up for my deficiencies in other areas. When I moved to Nice in ’88, I used to do a lot of climbing, and I used to practice my descending or try and go fast. I realized that I could save a lot of energy if I descended fast. If you had three climbs in a stage, you hit the first one easy and on the second one you start hitting the gas. And maybe between the second climb and the bottom of the third climb there is 51 kilometers of valley. And if you are in the pack, you can save so much energy, you know? So my plan was to always go flat out on the second climb, and if I was with a group just before the top, I would sprint to get a clear passage. And then just go hell for leather on the descent to catch back up, which I often did and then be in the pack for 51 kilometers and then go really easy on the last climb.
PEZ: I read that you were well liked in the peloton. Phil Liggett said “you were a super domestique that finally got rewarded with a day in the yellow jersey.” Graham Watson said you gave him $400.00 because he was broke at the end of the ’83 Worlds in Switzerland. One doesn’t read these comments about many riders today.
Sean: Well, it is nice to be appreciated. I was always motivated by others….to ride for others, you know? I knew if I did a good job, I would always have a contract. I knew I could be the best on certain days, I knew that I just did not have the consistency, or determination or desire really to be a leader. I knew that if you were a leader, the financial rewards were much greater. But you always had the pressure to perform the whole time, you know?
Whereas being a domestique, there is some pressure… if you are supposed to pull at this point, well you pull at that point. I was always motivated by great riders like Lance, Andy Hampsten, good sprinters, they really motivated me to give my best. Obviously, I did get the yellow jersey; I did win a stage in the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espaсa. On my good days I could be there. And I would take my chance. It wasn’t something I thought about much. Ok, my legs are good today, we’ll see what happens. The only time I worked for myself was Paris Roubaix.
PEZ: This was a good race for you Sean, tell me about this day…
Sean:That was the only race I raced for myself. I think the previous year, I had been moving up, and I came in eighth. The year before that I was eleventh. I realized it was a good race for me. And I could do well, you know? And that day was particularly rough as you can see from the picture. And it was freezing from the start. It was snowing, which I liked those conditions in those days. When it is really wet, there is probably a maximum of ten guys that can ride the cobbles. I remember one section, I dropped back a little bit, I was like 15th or so, guys were crashing and going left, right and center. Some guys would hit the Pavй and give it everything.
1994 Paris-Roubaix. Sean Yates always raced strongly through the cobbled hell of Paris Roubaix. In the rain battered ’94 edition, the Motorola man ended up in fifth place.
When you are drafting there is not so much advantage, so everyone was really suffering. I can’t afford to be outside the top five because when you hit each section, you waste so much energy. It’s actually on youtube. I spent that week in Belgium. We came to about 40 kilometers to go and these motorbikes crashed in front on us. And there was complete chaos. And I said: I am just going to go as hard as I can from here to the finish. And on that same section Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle and Franco Ballerini – they both punched it. Andrei Tchmil was away and Johan Museeuw tried to get across to him and within twenty meters he couldn’t. And I came flying past them. Fabio Baldato bridged up to me. And I was going as fast as I could. And I was puking up.
We hit the Carrefour de l’Arbre, which is the second to last hard section. And we caught Museeuw, and he was just blown. I dropped the others, and I was second on the road. And the crowds were going crazy. I was going hell for leather…as hard as I could. But they came back from behind: Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, Franco Ballerini and Olaf Ludwig. The last 5 kilometers to go and I knew that Andrei Tchmil was going to attack because he was so strong. But I just didn’t have the legs. And he attacked on that drag just before you start that long descent towards the velodrome. Baldato went with him. And I couldn’t. Baldato came second, Franco Ballerini third and then in the sprint Olaf Ludwig beat me. Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle was behind me. So, that was an epic day.
A big thank you to Philippe Maertens: Press Officer of Astana Cycling Team for taking the time to set this interview up.
Want more? Check out Sean’s personal website!
Take a look at Matt’s new website for other great PEZ interviews: VeloPrints.com