Recently we’ve run interviews with ‘Young Scots on the up.’ Messrs. Stuart Balfour, Mark Stewart, Alfie George and Oscar Onley. What’s the common denominator – apart from talent? They’ve all ridden for Spokes Racing Team. High time the man behind it got a bit of recognition, we thought to ourselves, here at VeloVeritas. Craig Grieve is his name, the man at the helm of Spokes Cycles, with branches in St. Andrews and Dundee, and manager of the successful junior team through which so much talent has passed.
Craig raced ‘back in the day’, riding for the Fife Century and Kennoway Road Club, making the Scottish junior road team and paying his dues in Belgium and The Netherlands in those 240 rider, warp-speed criteriums.
In these days when ‘net shopping gets stronger every year, we began by asking how business is for his shops?
“Business is good but to compete against the internet businesses you have to offer stuff that people can’t get simply looking at a web page; great customer service and expert bike fit – and you hope folks put a value on that.”
How did the race team come about?
“My son started to race and that time there weren’t a lot of schoolboys and juniors racing.
“But at the track leagues I got to know the other lads’ fathers – they approached me and suggested we get together and take teams down south to ride the bigger schoolboy and junior races they have down there.
“It all started from there.
“I think 2014 was our first year of having the team, with my son, Stuart Balfour, the late Ben Forsyth, Hector Lancaster and Fraser Martin.
“To start with, we didn’t have a team car, we’d go down to races in England in the shop van and then hire a car to go in the race convoy.
“For the first couple of years we didn’t have sponsors and we paid for everything out of our own pocket.”
How do you get those continental race invites?
“We wait on the UCI calendar appearing then send off emails to the organisers expressing interest.
“One of the first we rode was the Three Days of Axel in The Netherlands – we got smashed, it was brutal.
“But we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and resolved to cherry-pick our calendar a bit more carefully.
“Gradually, our guys improved, gained confidence and second year lads could say to the new lad the following year; ‘it’s not as hard as you might think.’
“When Steve Dent won a stage in the Sint-Martinusprijs Kontich it showed we weren’t just there to make up the numbers – and that’s what we tell the lads in our pre-race talks.
“It’s a bit random though, our first time at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne we had a top 12 placing – but since then they don’t even answer my emails.
“But the guys at the Sint-Martinusprijs love having us in the race every year.”
What’s in it for you, Craig?
“I enjoy it, seeing guys moving up – sometimes you wonder why you do it then we get a wee gem of a rider and it renews the sparkle.”
How do you select riders for the team?
“Every September we put an announcement up on FaceBook that we’re inviting applications.
“Then we have a selection camp of 14/15 guys which we narrow down to eight or nine.
“This year there have been less applications but the quality has been very high – the cream of the crop.”
New recruits for 2020?
“Murray Lawson, the lad who was fastest up Falkland in the national champs but didn’t get the title.
“One of the time trials we have at our selection camps is up Purrinden and he absolutely ripped everyone to shreds – so I wasn’t surprised by the national result.
“Oscar Onley stays with us but we’ll be sharing him with AG2R.
“Aaron King stays with us too; he was seventh on a stage in the Sint-Martinusprijs and top 20 on GC, he’s really suited to that Belgian school of racing.
“Adam Mitchell was on the GC podium at the Kingdom Classic, our two stage junior race in Fife.
“Callum Thornley was originally an MTB man but has come across to the road.
“And we have a couple of lads who’ve come over from Edinburgh Road Club, Alex Gibb and Ross Birrell.”
Have there been many disappointments in recruitment over the years?
“All ones that I started, despite my gut instinct, ones that fizzled out after folk telling me how great they were – but not seeing it myself.
“But I’d rather look at successful guys like Fraser Martin, Finn Crockett, Logan McLean, Joe Reilly…”
The biggest successes?
“Stuart’s progress has been steady, not spectacular – but getting that wee bit better each year to where he is now; enlivening the World Championships.”
Where does the money come from to pay for all the trips?
“We have an annual dinner which raises a good sum and our sponsors are fantastic with us – Verge clothing for example give us some £5,500 worth of clothing.
“Usually there will be someone in management who’s into the sport or has friends who are.
“My method of obtaining sponsorship?
“Go out and grovel!”
What does 2020 hold?
“We have a little bit bigger squad for next year; the season is longer with the Philippe Gilbert Classic moved back to October…
“By the time the Tour of Wales comes around in August some of the lads are getting tired with all the travel to and from races, so we decided we’d like a wee bit bigger pool.”
Your opinions on juniors riding ‘mega machines’ – should there be restrictions on spend/level of equipment?
“We have this discussion every year but what can you do?
“Albeit Youths are restricted from deep section rims and Ultegra is the highest level of equipment we have our guys ride.
“The worst thing that happened to time trialling was the introduction of the specialist time trial bike costing from £5,000 upwards – kids think that if they don’t have one then they can’t be competitive.
“On the subject of restrictions, we’ve heard that the French Federation have lifted junior gear restrictions; it used to be 52 x 14 but now a junior can ride 53 x 11 if they chose to.
“We’ll have to take separate transmissions with us with dedicated chains and cassettes or we’ll end up with chains not meshing and hassle.
“And before we finish our chat Ed, can I just say a big ‘thank you’ to our great helpers without whom it couldn’t happen; Blair Whiteside, Andrew Duncan, Dave Chapman, Stuart Munro, Andy Mitchell, Peter Kneeshaw, Paul Sinnot and Keith McCrae – they’ve all given invaluable help to the team.”
VeloVeritas would like to thank Craig for his time and what he does for the sport of cycling, particularly in Scotland.