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Simon Yates's Vuelta victory crowns a stunning year for British cycling

Under a hot September sky and to the incongruous strains of Bad Moon Rising – not to mention those of the even less podium-friendly Another One Bites the Dust – Simon Yates completed the final few laps of his first Grand Tour victory in Madrid on Sunday night.

At 7.48pm local time, after 23 days, 21 stages and 3,254.7km, the 26-year-old rider from Bury finally crossed the line outside the Cibeles palace.

In winning the Vuelta a España, Yates crowned a stunning year for British cycling that has now yielded an unprecedented British Grand Tour slam in the wake of Chris Froome’s Giro d’Italia win and Geraint Thomas’s Tour de France victory.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Yates had appeared to be struggling to take in what he was on the verge of achieving.

“Yes, I’ve made it! It’s still sinking in,” he said after Saturday’s penultimate stage in his adopted home of Andorra. “I’m incredibly proud. I’m also incredibly proud of the team. They’ve carried me for these entire three weeks.”

On the subject of how exactly he had made it, Yates was characteristically succinct. “I just tried to make my own rhythm,” he said. “I gave everything I had and thankfully it was enough.”

It certainly was. Yates and his twin brother and teammate, Adam, have come a very long way since the day their father took them to the Manchester Velodrome to watch Bury Clarion race – and not just in kilometres.

Confirmation of his victory elicited polite, rather than rapturous, applause from the crowds in the centre of Madrid. The race over, many drifted off in search of aperitivos rather than stay for the prize ceremony.

But for the Britons who had come over to watch the race, it had been a thoroughly worthwhile journey.

Cheering Yates on – and speculating from time to time on the fate of the friends gone awol in a nearby pub – was Tony Pimlott, an internet page designer and member of the small Team Plough cycling club in Sutton Coldfield.

What had brought him to the streets of Madrid on a Sunday night? “I love football,” he deadpanned, giving the question the answer it deserved. “No. We’re a small local team and we like racing. We were in Düsseldorf last year for the beginning of the Tour de France. It’s just an added bonus that there’s a British winner this year.”

That it had been a British triumph was not immediately obvious from the composition of the crowd, almost a third of whom appeared to be Colombian. Draped over barriers, hanging from numerous shoulders, painted on faces and emblazoned on shirts and baseball caps was the familiar red, blue and yellow tricolour.

Those who had left their shopping too late wore the Colombian football strip to make plain their devotion to their compatriots in the Vuelta.

At a bus stop on the plaza sat Iván Castiblanco and his friends.

“I’m here to support Colombia,” explained Castiblanco, more than a little redundantly. “Colombians always support each other, as you can see here.”

Castiblanco, who lives in Italy, may have been fulfilling his patriotic duty, but he was also keen to point out that the day and the year belonged to British cyclists. “It’s the only country to have won three Grand Tours with three different riders in the same year,” he said. “That’s impressive.”

Also overflowing with patriotic pride was Rosemary García, a careworker originally from Cali, Colombia who has lived in Spain for 18 years and never misses a vuelta.

“I just love it,” she said. “All the emotion, excitement and adrenaline.”

Sebastián Kleider Valencia, originally from Cali, had also come to the centre of Madrid to lend his support. “There are three Colombians in the top 10. In Colombia, it’s all about football and cycling.” And which did he prefer? He paused for a millisecond or two then came down firmly on one side: “Football.”

Others would doubtless disagree.

As he stood by the barrier, waiting to catch a glimpse of Yates passing by in the blurry, multi-coloured shoal, Paul Sherriff reflected on the significance of the event he was about to witness.

“What we’re seeing today is unique and I think it’s being a bit missed in the UK,” said Sherriff, another member of Team Plough.

“It’s three Grand Tours and three different British riders. It’s just remarkable.”

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