It was December 2022 when Adam Yates was asked how UAE Team Emirates planned on getting more out of himself following his move from Ineos Grenadiers. “The coaches here have different coaching techniques but they told me not to change anything,” the always straight-talking Briton answered. “They just said, ‘keep doing what you’ve been doing for the last few years‘. I’ve been around the block a few times so I guess I know what I am doing to an extent. I just need a nudge here and there to get the best out of me. I won’t change too much.”
A year later, sitting in the same courtyard of a five-star hotel nestled beneath one of the Costa Blanca’s arid mountains, it’s clear that something did change. Because 2023, Yates’ 10th as a WorldTour pro, was by far his best yet.
Five wins included the opening stage of the Tour de France, a GC victory at the Tour de Romandie and his first major one-day success (GP de Montréal) in six seasons. There was also an MVP performance at the Tour in support of Tadej Pogačar that was rewarded by four days in yellow and the final spot on the podium.
So, Adam, what changed? He laughs. “I think it’s planning with the team, the consistency with everything around me as well. My level is not much higher than previous years but when I go to a race now I can find this [high] level, come back, have a rest and have the same level.” Code word for better training and preparation, then? “I know what works for me, what I should and shouldn’t do. Now I have a plan, a nutrition plan, and I know the certain time of year when I go to altitude.”
The image Yates seems to be projecting is that UAE Team Emirates is a structure-based organisation, with clear-defined objectives from the outset. But there’s one crucial twist, different from the Ineos Grenadiers setup that Yates departed. “I have a good relationship with the management and staff [at UAE],” he continues. “I am super honest with them about what I expect, and they’re the same. If a route comes out that we like, we’ll change my race calendar. That is super nice - in other teams you don’t get the same respect between big bosses and riders, but in this team you do and it makes it a lot easier when you have the connection.”
Yates, 31, is not trying to kick his former employers Ineos, but will now admit that things didn’t quite click in his two years there, even if he remained a regular contender in pretty much every race in which he lined up. “I think it was a little bit of everything,” he says. “Especially some of the race calendar stuff. Like here, I know what I’m gonna do for the rest of the year, but at Ineos it all took a little bit longer. There was politics involved, I guess, with different calendars.”
UAE is his third professional team. “Greenedge [now Jayco-Alula, where he was for seven seasons] was super fun. Everyone was having a laugh, a joke, but it was super serious when it came time to knuckle down,” he reflects. “Ineos was a little bit stricter – a lot stricter – but I still enjoyed it. But maybe it wasn’t the best fit for me. And then I’ve come here, had a really successful first year, got the respect of the staff, and you can have this connection where you can talk honestly and not feel like you’re being judged. For me that’s super, super important.”
Yates’ contentment was reflected in his performances and results. Taking the opening stage of the Tour, beating his twin brother Simon on the line, was a fairytale way to finally grab a stage win in a three-week race. “After so many years coming close, it was a big relief,” he smiles. “It was a super nice experience and I got the yellow jersey to go with it too.”
Was 2023 his best year yet? “In terms of consistency, yes, for sure,” he answers. “Also in terms of wins. The level I won at was a super high one. If I had the same level in the Tour a few years ago, I could have won some really nice races.”
But what about now? Yates has been established as one of the peloton’s most consistent one-week stage racers for most of the past decade, but Grand Tour success has mostly eluded him. “If I took this shape [from last year’s Tour] to a different Grand Tour, take one more step forward, why can’t I take the top step [at a Grand Tour]?
“The big difference I found at the Tour was explosiveness. When Tadej attacks, he’s sprinting for two minutes. Maybe I could do that when I was younger, but now it’s getting more difficult. [Jonas] Vingegaard can also do these crazy attacks. That’s the difference between us, but climbing level? We’re pretty close. I’m not too far off them. If I am at my best level, I know I can compete at the best races versus the best guys. I’m 31 now, but I don’t feel 31; I feel much younger.”
He has another two years on his current contract with UAE, and will be part of the team’s intimidating line-up at the Tour. He’ll then co-lead alongside João Almeida at the Vuelta a España, where his best result to date is fourth overall from the 2021 edition. He won’t try to hide his ambition. “Only five years ago or so, riders were peaking between 28 and 32” – the age group he is currently nestled in – “and this season I hope to take one more step forward. Sport at the highest level is dedication, but as long as you enjoy going to races, perform at your best, you won’t have any regrets.”