Scotland’s Sprint Hope: Kevin Stewart

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Scotland has had a lot of success in years gone by thanks to a succession of Sprint cyclists who have made a name for themselves around the world in major events such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Chris Hoy, Craig McLean, and Ross Edgar to name just the latest of many to be winning medals of all colours in such history making events.

As the 2012 Olympics in London gets ever closer, and with the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Scotland is also proud of its young hopes for the future, cyclists such as Kevin Stewart of Dundee. Kevin is one of two Scottish riders currently in Moscow for the World Junior Track Championships and has been training hard for his opportunity to win his first championship medal at a major event.

The eighteen year old recently rode well in some Grand Prix sprint meetings in Germany and was on the top step of the podium a few times to sound a warning to his rivals that Britain had more talented sprinters climbing the ladder behind the current British stars who are hogging the limelight.

Kevin came into track sprint from an unlikely sport – triathlon, something his dad had done to a high level. In the triathlon, the cycling leg of the sport was always Kevin’s best but he soon grew tired of the sport and when a cycling club was started in Dundee to help encourage youngsters to get involved in track racing, the Discovery Junior Cycling Club, Kevin popped along to see what was on offer. 

“If I was going to doing cycling, it had to be track as I was never that good at endurance” Kevin explained to us at the training camp before leaving for Russia. “I was always quite big so being a sprinter seemed a natural path to go down.” With the help of well known Scottish riders such as Marco Librizzi who had inspired him in the run up to the last Commonwealth Games by his speed on a bike, and Kevin’s ever supportive parents, the Dundee based rider started to make people sit up and take notice and this year, was invited to be part of the Great Britain Cycling Team’s Olympic Development Programme for Track Sprint.

Kevin on the top step of the podium in Cottbus, an important part of his development as a sprint on the Olympic Development Programme.

Working with the likes of Jon Norfolk, Kevin admits that being part of the ODP has been really good for him and his development to being a world class sprinter. “This year,  compared to last year (before the ODP) is so different training and racing wise. I have such a different approach to sprinting now and have really benefited”.

But getting the training required to improve his times for the sprint events where fractions of a second can be the difference between winning and finishing no-where is not easy especially when you’re living at home many hundreds of miles from the Manchester Velodrome. Training at home tests the dedication of young athletes like Kevin to the limit. Dundee has a track but because of its shallow bankings, it’s not ideal for a sprinter of Kevin’s ability and so the best option in Scotland for his training is Edinburgh’s Meadowbank outdoor board track where he can unleash his sprint to the full.

Getting to Edinburgh however is a bit of a trek says Kevin, but one that has to be done. A round trip can take three hours or more and if it rains, that trip may well be for nothing. Which is why many a Scottish cyclist is looking forward to the indoor velodrome in Glasgow which will bear the name of Sir Chris Hoy.

“The velodrome in Glasgow will be such a bonus for Scotland” Kevin says. “It is desperately needed and I don’t think we’re seeing the full potential of Scotland yet. I think it will open the flood gates.”

Kevin get's some help from coach Jon Norfolk adjusting the strap on his Casco helmet.

But training on the track for Kevin, as it is for many a young sprinter still at school, is not an option most days and so its either a turbo in the family home or training on the road with only a stop watch for company. If the latter, that means having to deal with what the elements throw at you as well. Kevin says that nine times out of ten its probably raining if he goes out on the road” before adding that it’s character building!

With the training aspect being as hard as it is, getting away for a training camp is always something the riders look forward to and Kevin is no exception. Talking about Cottbus in June, he says “It was a bit of a shock to see so many Germans all really going well and I thought I’ve got my work cut out here but it worked out okay. Cottbus was a good camp and I had a couple of good wins so was pleased with how it went.”

The training camp in Germany was part of the preparation for the Europeans and Worlds but it didn’t go to plan for Kevin. “Little things like small tactical decisions cost me races and a few photo finishes went against me. I don’t think I had my head on properly and I have a lot to improve on for the Worlds but I learnt a lot from the Europeans.”

“Racing with guys you have never seen before can be quite daunting but they have two legs like me and it’s just a case of going out to beat them in the end.”

Like Becky James, when I asked Kevin which event would he choose if he could only have one rainbow jersey, he chose the Sprint. “That’s where I think I am the strongest and out of the three of them, it’s the blue ribbon event and so the one I would like to win”.

Outside of cycling, like another well known Scottish sprinter, Craig McLean, Kevin also enjoys playing a musical instrument, the drums. Or, when looking to chill out, he’ll pay a visit to the local cinema as going to the movies is another past time he can use to escape the cycling world he lives and breathes.

Being a sprinter, it is unsurprising that Kevin is being compared to Scotland’s biggest sporting star in many a year, Chris Hoy. The two have trained together when at Manchester but even more of an honour for Kevin was picking up an award on behalf of   Chris, Scotland’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2008. 

“That was amazing” Kevin says. “He was at a photo call for the Glasgow Velodrome to hold one of the Worlds Cups in 2012 and they asked Chris there if he was able to come to the ceremony as he had won the award. He said he wasn’t available so I was asked and it was a really good night as well as a big honour to pick it up for him.”

Kevin admits it can be surreal training with an athlete as much as an icon as Chris Hoy has become since winning three Golds in Beijing especially as Chris is such a role model to the young sprinters. Having him round in person at training though also shows the young riders just how he’s just like anybody else and off the bike is as normal as any of the riders in the track centre.

Looking to the future, and having ambitions to rise to the level that Chris Hoy currently occupies, Kevin knows that there are stepping stones to get there and one of those is making the Olympic Academy which is something he has his fingers crossed he’ll be able to do next year. And then making the team for the Commonwealth Games. “That would be amazing” he says adding it would be a great help in his goal to also be representing his home country in Glasgow 2014.”

Thanks to Kevin and good luck to him for the future in his cycling career.