A market researcher called Simon Yates, based in the US region of New England, has been inundated with hundreds of messages intended for the British professional cyclist currently leading the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
It’s principally down to an errant ‘s’ in their Twitter handles. @simonyates is the fifty-something managing vice-president of Gartner for Marketing Leaders. @simonyatess is the Mitchelton-Scott star with 26,400 followers on the social medium, 16 times the number of his namesake.
An easy mistake to make, and one that’s been made by everyone from adoring fans to the official Giro d’Italia account and British Cycling.
— LaGazzettadelloSport (@Gazzetta_it) May 20, 2018
@SimonYates just want to say you’re an inspiration. Winning the Giro at your age is inspiring us all that it’s still possible.
— Xylon van Eyck (@XylonVE) May 21, 2018
This is all nothing new for Yates senior. “It really started in 2015 when he was taking on Froome in the Critérium du Dauphiné,” he explains via e-mail. “I’d never heard of him and then he suddenly popped up on TV, caused my four-year-old to squeal, and kickstarted a lot of email and Facebook messages from friends offering tongue-in-cheek congrats on my performance. Then [my] Twitter started blowing up every time he raced.”
How many messages has he received that were intended for the professional cyclist? “Hundreds. I’ve lost count and Twitter only goes back so far. It’s not just Twitter though. There are people that follow me on Strava because they think I’m him. Really? My 20-mile commute into Boston doesn’t tell you that I’m not that Simon Yates? I also receive the occasional Facebook friend request from his fans.”
There are a few curious similarities between the pair. This Simon Yates also hails from Lancashire, growing up in Blackburn, thirty minutes down the road from the professional cyclist’s Bury home, before moving across the Atlantic 35 years ago as a teenager. He is a big cycling fan too, describing himself as your “typical middle-aged man in lycra.”
— Simon Yates (@SimonYates) May 21, 2018
What is his reaction to receiving these messages? “I think it’s hilarious. Frankly it’s better than my other mistaken identity problem which is Simon Yates, the mountaineer who famously cut the rope on his partner Joe Simpson. Every time the BBC show [the film] Touching The Void, I tend to get a wave of nasty tweets about being a coward for letting my friend fall into a ravine.”
For all the plaudits he’s received during the Giro, there was plenty of abuse in mid-2016 after Yates was banned for four months following a positive test for terbutaline (later ruled as “non-intentional doping” due to an administrative error from his team).
“That wasn’t pleasant. I won’t repeat some of the language but I was surprised how easily people can say some really hateful and nasty things without actually checking to make sure that it’s going to the right place,” Yates says.
“And how quickly people can turn back to being cheerleaders when he was in the white jersey at 2017 Tour de France. I can see that everyone in the UK is excited by his success and that’s great but I’m sure he’d rather see these kinds of messages go to him rather than me!”
Despite this regular occurrence, Yates says he has never considered changing his Twitter handle: “I’m in the tech industry, I joined Twitter in 2009 when I thought it was the stupidest thing on the planet.”
Simon Yates is not the only professional sportsman to be involved in a case of mistaken identity. Olympic champion Chris Hoy (above) was inundated with messages from angry Tottenham Hotspur football fans following a 2011 match against Stoke they deemed to have been poorly refereed by Chris Foy.
On Twitter, there is also an @adamyates from Kentucky who Mitchelton-Scott have mistakenly tweeted in the past. And then there’s Geraint Thomas – @geraintthomas – whose profile reads “lecturer in visual effects. Not a cyclist.” He has received so many dispatches intended for his namesake that he coined the hashtag #imnotacyclist. The Team Sky rider even mentions the mix-up in his autobiography.
@TeamSky Seriously, how can you guys get your own team mate's twitter handle mixed up. Again?! Hilarious.
— Geraint Thomas (@geraintthomas) March 9, 2017
Don’t expect the same from Mitchelton-Scott’s star. “Unfortunately, he’s blocked me from following him on Twitter,” the older Simon says. “Not sure what that’s all about. It’s not like I’m trying to steal his identity or anything. I would also never say anything on his timeline to take advantage of the notoriety. I’m a fan of his, I enjoy seeing him do so well and that’s about it.”
The Giro finishes in Rome on Sunday, but with no US broadcaster showing it on the TV package he owns, Yates won’t be cheering his namesake.
Seeing as he has received so many messages intended for the professional cyclist, is there one he’d like to pass on to the British talent himself?
“There are just a ton of people from around the European cycling community who are cheering him on and people in the UK in particular are extremely proud of his accomplishments. I’m sure he knows this, but to see the Tweets of his fans would make him proud, I think.
“He seems like a good kid who doesn’t take himself too seriously and is humble enough to say that he still worries about Tom Dumoulin taking the lead from him.
“I wish him nothing but the best – even if my Twitter feed does blow up once in a while.”