SIMON Yates rolled up to the start line of the Tour de France in Leeds on Saturday a virtual unknown.

But as the only English-born rider in the race, the Bury cyclist was guaranteed a warm reception on the first three stages, which were held in the UK.

The 21-year-old Tour debutant, however, was completely unprepared for the experience as an estimated five million spectators turned out to cheer him and the other 198 competitors.

And Yates took to his official account on Twitter – @SimonYatess – on Monday night, as the Tour left London for France, to thank his new fans.

“A huge thank-you to everyone shouting for me today. I will remember that for the rest of my life,” he wrote.

The honorary Bury Clarion member was caught completely unawares when he received a shock call-up to the Orica GreenEdge squad early last week.

Initially, he thought his team had made a mistake, believing they meant to ask his twin brother Adam, who had enjoyed a successful season after winning the Tour of Turkey and finishing sixth in the Criterium Du Dauphine – the traditional curtain-raiser for the Tour de France.

Simon had spent eight weeks off recovering from a broken collarbone, sustained in a fall in Turkey in April.

And while he finished third in the British national road race the previous Sunday, the call-up was still a big shock.

“I thought they were going to be calling about the Tour of Poland, which is a month away,” Yates said before Saturday’s Grand Depart from Leeds.

“It’s a shock. From the start of the year I was not even a reserve for the Tour de France so to come to the biggest race we do all year, and specially with it coming to England, it’s a big opportunity.”

Simon navigated the British leg of the Tour – including stages from Leeds to Harrogate, York to Sheffield and Cambridge to London – unscathed, going over the finish line on the Mall in 69th place overall, just over four minutes behind the leader.

His job in the remaining three weeks of the Tour will be to support the team’s more senior members, but team leader Matt White believes he could have an important role to play.

“Simon has certainly achieved a lot more than we would have imagined up to this point," he said.

"It wasn’t the plan to bring him into the roster for the Tour de France, but for what we want to achieve as a team, he’s a great fit.

“It is no secret that we are targeting the intermediate mountain stages, and Simon has shown in his results throughout the year that he is more than capable of great results.”

Yates successfully navigated a tricky stage over the cobbles in northern France today, unlike last year's yellow jersey winning Brit Chris Froome.

As Froome became the second Brit to crash out, following sprinter Mark Cavendish, Yates held his nerve in treacherous conditions.

He did lose time, however, dropping down to 110th in the overall classifications, more than 26 minutes behind overall leader Vincenzo Nibali, and 15th in the young rider rankings, more than 25 minutes behind Peter Sagan.