-By Richard Shrubb
Sean Yates, a retired professional cyclist, has made the switch to riding an e-bike due to a heart condition that hinders his ability to tackle even the easier climbs. It’s a stark contrast from his days as one of the top cyclists in the world.
Tour de France Yellow Jersey
Yates began his professional cycling career in 1982, serving as a “domestique” on numerous teams for the major cycling Grand Tours in Europe over a span of 14 years.
He explains, “My role was to support the team leader, leading the sprint lead out and aiding them in starting their climbs, as well as protecting them from losing ground in cross-winds.”
Though road cycling is undoubtedly a team sport, there are moments when individuals can truly shine. In 1994, just two years before his retirement, Yates won a time trial in the Tour de France and claimed the coveted Yellow Jersey through his strong overall performance in the race.
Yates considers this victory as the highlight of his cycling career, despite losing the jersey the very next day due to a defeat in a breakaway sprint.
Following his retirement, Yates spent three years as a professional gardener while also participating in amateur road racing events in the UK.
However, his passion for cycling persisted, leading him to transition into team management. He steadily climbed the ranks and eventually became the Directeur Sportive for Tinkhoff Saxo, providing crucial support to cycling legends Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador.
In 2016, when the team disbanded, Yates took charge of the road team as Contador valiantly fought for one last chance to reclaim the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France.
Disability Forces a Cycling Rethink
Thanks in part to his years spent in the saddle, Yates developed a progressive heart condition known as Atrioventricular canal defect (AV), which severely limits his leg power output.
Yates reveals, “My heart often experiences ‘atrial fibrillation,’ causing it to misfire and prevent the delivery of blood and oxygen to my muscles when I need it the most.”
If likened to an engine, it would be comparable to the engine coughing and sputtering instead of smoothly accelerating when the gas pedal is pressed down.
He adds, “I can only generate 150-175 watts with my legs, which, considering my weight of 75 kilograms (approximately 150 pounds), is little more than a leisurely walking pace on a 10% incline.
The Life-Changing Power of E-Bikes
A Transformation of Heart and Mind
His heart condition compelled him to reconsider his approach to hitting the road and embracing his passion for cycling. It was in the year 2018 that he stumbled upon the remarkable Ribble Endurance SLe, an e-bike with a rear hub motor and a lightweight in-frame battery, touted as one of the most nimble electric bicycles available today.
With this incredible machine, he experienced the exhilaration of conquering a stage of the renowned Tour de France in the Pyrenees alongside his beloved family—a moment that left an indelible mark in his heart.
Yates attests, “Riding with the e-bike grants me an additional 150 watts of power, making uphill ascents less arduous. It transforms what could be a grueling ordeal into an enjoyable adventure.”
E-Bikes: Revolutionizing Cycling for All
Exploring the Potential
During his time spent managing a cycling team in Gran Canaria, Yates encountered e-bikes and witnessed people donning Bermuda shorts scaling mountainous peaks. Enthusiastically, he exclaims, “E-bikes allow everyone to engage in outdoor exploration and embrace the joy of cycling.”
When queried about his cardiologist’s perspective on his cycling escapades despite his degenerative heart condition, he responds, “I don’t think they truly comprehend! Last summer, I attended a heart clinic with minor heart failure, and they actually encouraged me to continue cycling. It does me no harm.”
One notion that profoundly irritates him is the notion that e-bikes are mere “cheater bikes.” Correcting this misconception, he asserts, “They differ greatly from motorcycles as their assistance levels are carefully regulated, offering modest aid when ascending hills. They empower individuals who would otherwise be unable to partake in cycling!”
He proposes, “Imagine residing in a hilly region, weighing 98 kilograms [200 pounds], and having no prior cycling experience. You could conquer those slopes, shed those pounds, and eventually transition to a traditional bike as your fitness and weight improve.”
For him, his trusty Ribble e-bike is the primary reason he can still experience the sheer ecstasy of cycling. At the age of 58, he candidly admits, “Given a choice, I would rid myself of my heart condition and continue racing.”
Contemplating the future, Yates harbors an unwavering desire to spend his remaining years joyously pedaling on his beloved bike, rather than wasting away in a state of frustration. He declares, “I am determined to live life to the fullest, regardless of whether it potentially shortens my lifespan or leads to a heart attack!”
Undeniably, for an individual who has devoted his entire adult life to cycling at its highest echelons, e-bikes have become his sole refuge, allowing him to remain firmly situated in the saddle.
Heart Health and E-Bikes: A Life-Changing Connection
Exploring the Remarkable Benefits of E-Bikes for All
With his heart on the brink of giving up, he brilliantly illustrates the incredible potential of e-bikes to revolutionize the lives of individuals in various states of well-being. Whether embarking on a determined journey towards physical rejuvenation or cherishing every precious moment encountered on the open road, e-bikes seamlessly blend into their lives, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose.
Discover the inspiring story of Sean Yates from Ribble in this captivating video: