Tom Stewart started mountain biking at the age of 14, not racing, just riding. At 16 he got his first road bike and started training with his first club, The Doncaster Wheelers.
After completing his A-levels he moved to Whistler, Canada for a year where he worked as a bellman in a hotel and spent the year skiing and mountain biking. At 19 he moved back to the UK to start a masters degree in Civil and Structural Engineering at The University of Sheffield.
Tom's first proper season road racing was in 2012 under the guidance of local riders Dave Coulson and Chris Walker of Team RST. At the start of 2013 Tom raced for Team Sportscover and upon completing his degree, started riding as a full time cyclist for his current team Team Raleigh in June of this year.
As a racing cyclist, which results are you most proud of and why?
On the second day of the Tour of Reservoir this year I was 5th. I'd placed 4th the day before and finished 4th overall but its that 5th place I'm most proud of. That was a very long tough day and at that point nobody knew who I was. I had to fight every second of that day. All the other key riders had teammates around them but I was alone on the road for the majority of the day. I think it was that ride that first got me recognised.
Which are your favourite stretches of road toride on locally and what is it that you like about them?
That's a difficult call. Living in Doncaster I have Sheffield and the Peaks to my West, the rolling lanes of Worksop and Newark to the South and the flat windy gutters towards the River Trent in the East. Its this variety that keeps me keen. But to pick two favourite places. I really love the little lanes around Broomhead Reservoir and the small roads that wind through Welbeck and Clumber. Both very beautiful and quiet.
The same question for roads anywhere in the world?
I've spent a fair amount of time in Gran Canaria over the last few winters. It has taken me some time to find the true gems but I'd choose some of the climbs there as my favourite. The tarmac looks as though its been dribbled over the mountains like honey from a spoon. They twist and wind and climb around. Its a fantastic place.
What is your most memorable moment on the bike or involved with cycling?
Another difficult one to answer. Winning the University Road Race Champs last year was especially memorable so that would be up there.
Has racing affected your relationship with the bike? If so, how?
I suppose racing does affect that delicate relationship but I certainly haven't lost touch with my love for the sport. I make sure I regularly have leisurely rides with friends that often include a cafe stop. I train as I need to but that doesn't stop me enjoying riding my bike. If anyone finds themselves falling out of love with the sport they need to reevaluate their competitive ambitions.
Do you agree with Mickey Goldmill's advice to Rocky that 'women weaken legs'?
No I don't think so. Before a big race I like to have my girlfriend over for the days leading up to it. I find it calming and a way to take away unnecessary nervousness. She's a big help when I'm anxious or stressed about a race. Partners of cyclists do have to put up with a lot of crap though and so it has to be the right woman.
We are in the midst of a well publicised boom in cycling in the UK at the moment. Has it affected you? Do you have any thoughts about why it has happened and whether it will continue? Do you see any negatives to the increase in popularity?
It affects me massively because the health of the UK racing scene depends heavily on the popularity of the sport at amateur level. My team, Team Raleigh, ultimately is funded by people buying bikes and taking an interest in the racing I do and so for that reason I am very grateful for this cycling boom.
I think the recent increase in popularity is due to a wide range of influences. Cycling is the new mid-life crisis sport. I mean that in a good way though. Middle aged guys whose kids are growing up and have a bit more spare cash, they buy a bike to get fit and try something new. Next thing you know they've lost a few pounds and become regulars smashing it on the local chain gang. Its great to see. The government's 'Ride to Work' schemes have really helped bike sales and given people that final excuse to give cycling a try. Of course the success of British riders at the Tour and Olympics has poured fuel on the flame.
I don't see any real negatives to this. However, instead of there being a steady trickle of new riders entering the sport and being brought up on Sunday club rides, there are guys having to fast-track that learning curve. It takes time to appreciate the etiquette and practices of riding in a group. It is absolutely the job of more experienced riders to help newcomers though and I like to think that in the area I ride, we are welcoming enough. That said, there are certainly some characters on these group rides I go on and for someone a little inexperienced it must be a hell of a baptism of fire. Its all part of the fun though.
All cyclists, whether they race or not, seem to obsess over the weight of their bikes. Why do you think this is?
Well the lighter the bike, the faster it is, so long as it stays stiff enough. That's the obvious answer but I think it goes further than that. Cycling isn't just someone's sport, its their passion, and the endless upgrading of bike and kit is as much a part of that as the riding. Some people scoff at guys with bellies riding round to the cafe on £5k bikes with tubs. Well to me that's not the point, the point is they're riding round on a beautiful piece of engineering brilliance and there's just something about that feeling of having a gorgeous bike between your legs.
Do you approach riding, or ride your bike, differently now to when you first got into cycling?
There is obviously a lot of training that has to be done now. Training that is specific and not just riding around like it used to be. That's inevitable really but I'm still riding with a smile on my face, most of the time.
Who has been your favourite pro riders over the years and why?
To be honest I haven't followed road cycling that much until recently. I have admired the pro mountain biker Richie Schley for a while. I got to race against him in Canada. I didn't realise it was him at the time. I'd get a gap on the climbs before he'd rinse past me on any kind of decent. When we'd crossed the line and he took off his glasses and helmet I couldn't believe it. We had a good laugh after that. I like his outlook on mountain biking and the way he rides. He just seems to have this deep routed happiness and satisfaction with his life and I don't think many people truly have that.
Following road racing more recently, I'd have to pick Philippe Gilbert as a favourite.
What was your favourite era of professional bike racing?
I haven't followed the sport properly for long enough to pick one I'm afraid.
Mudguards, mudguards and mudflaps or racing bike with clip on guards through winter?
I've done my time on a blue Ribble with mudguards so nowadays its got to be racing bike year round. Winter riding can be very tough so why make it harder? Do yourself a favour and train through winter on a decent bike that's comfortable and light.
Do you enjoy a cafe stop or do you prefer to ride straight round?
Dave Coulson wont approve but cafe stop all the way for me. Get my training done then head to a cafe on the way home for a coffee. Perfect. Chamois time counts as training time after all.
Assos, Rapha or neither?
I'll be frank, both Assos and Rapha are too expensive for me. I know its boring to say this but we're sponsored by MOA and I think their kit is fantastic. The quality is brilliant, as is the fit. That said, I have a couple of Rapha's merino base layers I managed to buy cheap in my collection.
Do you prefer to get your head down on the A6, keep a good tempo going on the B roads or get onto the back wacks? What about the rough stuff on your road bike?
Where I live there is no reason to spend any time on busy roads at all. Understandably this isn't the case for all but you simply put yourself at greater risk riding on busier roads.
I'm a big fan of rough stuff on the road bike. That probably stems from my mountain bike background but I just enjoy the challenge of it and the feeling of adventure it brings.
What do you think about Strava?
I hate to admit it but I think its a good laugh. I don't take myself too seriously on there but I'll certainly have a crack when I know a friend has the KOM somewhere.
What do you think about Sportive rides?
They're not for me but I do appreciate their appeal to others. I think actually they play an important role within our sport especially for people who I mentioned earlier are newcomers and might not have been brought up in a club. They're a great way for people to challenge themselves, discover new places and to learn. Sportive rides shouldn't be underestimated though. Over the coming years we'll see their popularity explode.
Do you have any cycling pet hates?
This whole alleged rivalry between road and mountain bikers. Its manufactured and a gimmick.
Are there any cycling traditions that you think have been, or are being, lost as a result of changing attitudes and behaviour? And are we better off or worse off as a consequence?
I'm concerned a little about the state of the industry and the way the larger cycling shop chains behave. Its a difficult subject because we all love a bargain but its going to kill the local bike shop. These big companies slash prices and just rely on a massive turnover to make profit rather than maintaining margins. If I need something though I want it as cheap as possible and if Evans or ChainReaction have it with 40% off its tough to refuse that.
My local bike shop in Doncaster is Don Valley Cycles and they are the only reason I am sat here as a professional cyclist. They helped me out no end with parts and advice when I bought my first road bike at 16. The Doncaster Wheelers are based out of that shop. Its a part of the community. Every other Saturday they run a novice ride for absolute beginners. Its a real success story. Russ Downing has his bike serviced there and Graham Briggs even used to work there. Well for me they have something at Don Valley the big websites will never have. They have character and passion.
There are still cracking deals to be had at these local bike shops and they know their stuff too. Like I say though, this isn't a cheap sport and where is the first place you check when your chain needs replacing? Its a tough one...
Cotton cap or helmet?
Helmet every time. I've fallen off myself and seen too many others crash to possibly justify not wearing one.
The benefits of spinning a low gear compared to mashing a high gear is often discussed. Putting aside the serious, physiological and mechanical aspects, what cadence you think looks right?
I think a fast cadence always looks better. When a rider's shoulders are solid and their hips aren't rocking, but they're pushing 90 to 100 rpm, I think that's what class on a bike looks like. Something as simple as someone tickling the pedals like that can be such a beautiful thing.
White, black or coloured socks?
Either white or black, but never coloured.
Frame pump or mini pump?
Mini pump for me. Bikes should be clean and clutter free.
What do you like to talk about when you are on a ride with friends/team/club mates? Do you prefer to keep the subjects lightweight or get your teeth into something contentious or controversial?
You see there aren't many people who get so much time to just sit and mull things over. Be that in your own head or with friends. In a four hour ride you can cover a lot of ground in conversation and as well as miles. Don't get me wrong, most of the time its just light hearted but certainly there are times when you get chance to get into the serious stuff.
Something that doesn't get touched on often is all the stuff that goes on in races. It would be great to see some helmet cam footage with audio of a race. People shouting mild abuse and what not. Tom Barras in a crit dive-bombing "coming in hot lads". It's hilarious at the time. I remember last year in the Lincoln GP I was in a chase group trying to catch the break. A motorbike pulled alongside and gave us a time check and said "Come on lads you'll catch them, they're not working." To which Matt Higgins shouts back "I know they're not f***ing working, they're all full-timers"...maybe you just had to be there...
Photo credit : From top to bottom.
Tour of the Reservoir - Larry Hickmott @ VeloUK.net
Nationals - Larry Hickmott @ VeloUK.net
Sheffield GP warm-up + race - Jerome Jacob - http://jeromejacobphotography.com/