HE may not be the biggest name in the men’s peloton, but Tom Stewart is in good form and will be highly motivated when he takes to the start line of the Tour de Yorkshire in Beverley on Thursday.
Stewart, from Doncaster, has a stage race victory under his belt this season and recorded a top-10 finish for England in the Commonwealth Games road race on Australia’s Gold Coast.
His friends and family will be among hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the roadside for the fourth edition of Yorkshire’s own race and he regards it as a privilege to ride on home roads, against some of the sport’s elite.
“The thing about it is, to the people of Yorkshire probably it’s another bike race that goes on in their back garden,” said Stewart.
“But it is a massive race on the world stage and some of the best riders in the world are going to be there, so to us local riders it is very special.
“It is an experience not many people get, to have a race of that standard on your doorstep. It is what you dream about when you’re riding with your mates, sprinting for signs that say ‘Welcome to Doncaster’ on the outskirts of town.
The weather’s usually been pretty good for the Tour de Yorkshire, but it was bad for the first couple of days two years ago and that was the time I did well.Tom Stewart
“Now it’s going to be happening for real.”
Stewart is a Tour de Yorkshire ever-present, having finished 40th in 2015, 11th in 2016 and 21st last year.
Now riding for the JLT-Condor squad, he is keen to make his mark on a race which passes close to home on stages one – which finishes on Doncaster – and two.
Team objectives have yet to be finalised, but Stewart believes the race allows a UCI Continental team like JLT, who are one tier below the elite World Tour squads, a free rein.
“It is a race for teams like us to animate, not one for us to control,” he said.
“That is for the World Tour teams to do.
“It is a nice opportunity to be aggressive and go for a big result.
“We will be looking to try and get up there on stages and, potentially, if things go well, to maybe get up there on GC [general classification, the overall result].
“There’s a lot of different opportunities for a team like us and maybe we’ll try to get the ‘King of the Mountains’ or ‘Sprint’ jersey.”
Stewart will be one of JLT’s leading hopes for a good result and is going into his home race with some impressive performances to his name this season.
He recorded the best result of his career by winning the Tour de Normandie last month, the first British rider to do so since 1985 and was seventh in the Commonwealth Games road race.
Stewart twice attacked off the front of the race, but was caught on the final lap of nine.
Of his time with Team England, he said: “It was a really, really great experience for me, for a couple of reasons.
“I am 28, which is not old normally, but in cycling I’m not a young, up-and-coming rider any more.
“I am not old either, but it (Commonwealth Games selection) is often given to younger riders so I was very grateful to get it. Also, I am not from a cycling family or anything like that and it kind of validates my decision to take up cycling as a career, because it is so well understood by non-cyclists.
“If I won a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire, my friends and family would be happy for me but they wouldn’t really understand what it means.
“But to represent your country in the Commonwealth Games, it was really special for my friends and family as well as myself.
“It was incredible living in the village and seeing all the other athletes, I did a lot of people-watching.”
Conditions in Yorkshire from Thursday to Sunday are likely to be a little different to those Stewart faced on the Gold Coast, where temperatures topped 30 degrees.
“It is easier for me to get used to cold weather rather than hot,” said Stewart.
“I have never really struggled in cold weather, but hot and humid is sometimes difficult.
“The weather’s usually been pretty good for the Tour de Yorkshire, but it was bad for the first couple of days two years ago and that was the time I did well.
“If the Yorkshire weather’s terrible, it will suit me better than if it’s nice.”