Friday, June 21, 2024

Lewis Stewart – “I want to continue my winning streak in the Tandem sprint!”


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Four years and more, surely it can’t be? But yes, the last time we spoke to Lewis Stewart was at the Bremen Six Day at the start of 2018 where he was riding the Sprint events.

As one of the Scotland squad for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games it’s high time we caught up with him again. 

Lewis will ride the Tandem Sprint and Kilometre Time Trial on the boards of the Lee Valley Velodrome in London where the track cycling events will be held.  

The last time we spoke you were making a science of the team sprint but here you are on the tandem…

“It’s a bit of a unique scenario, around two-and-a-half years ago when I was still on the u23 sprint squad, Pete Mitchell – who was in the squad which won the World Junior Team Sprint Championship then went on to be a multiple medallist on the para tandem – was involved in a bad car crash on the run in to the Olympics.

“The team was left with two tandems but just one pilot.

Justin Grace, my coach said to me that there was an opportunity for me to ride the Worlds on the tandem – and perhaps the Olympics.

“I wasn’t on the ‘Podium’ programme so there was no way I was going to Tokyo on a solo so it was too good an opportunity to miss.

“A couple of weeks into things I rode a UCI Class 1 event at Manchester with Neil Fachie; we took second in the Kilometre and won the Sprint.

“Then I paired with James Ball and repeated those medals at the Worlds in Canada. 

“Covid put a hold on things though but I decided to see the tandem through to 2021 and Tokyo, perhaps the only chance I would ever get to participate in an Olympic Games.

“Neil Fachie and Matt Rotherham won the kilometre in Tokyo with James and I taking silver; unfortunately there was no sprint event in Tokyo.”

Lewis Stewart
Lewis Stewart pilots James Ball on the GB Tandem at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo©SWpix

What was your first time on the tandem like?

“That would be two weeks before that Class 1 event I mentioned – mid-October 2019.

“On a solo machine I try to be loose and relaxed but that doesn’t work on a tandem – so the first effort we did I was bit wobbly but I soon adapted.” 

And you ride tri-bars on the tandem in the Kilometre, isn’t that tricky?

“The first time you transition from the base bar to the tri-bars is quite tough but it’s become instinctive now, I can do it pretty quickly with both hands at once so there’s a split second where I have no hands on the bars.

“It’s easier on some tracks than others; Milton in Canada where the Worlds were is tight for a tandem and so is Glasgow; on 250 metre tracks you’re pushing the limits.

“I definitely wouldn’t want to ride a tandem on the 200 metre Six Day track at Bremen!” 

James Ball (left) and Lewis Stewart, Tandem Sprint World Champions. Photo©British Cycling

I believe you’re riding ‘mega’ gears?

“The speeds are high, 9.5 seconds for the last 200 in the sprint and sub minute from a standing start in the kilometre, so the gears are big, yes.

“In the kilometre we ride anything between 121” and 125” – in the sprint it’s 64 x 12, that’s 144”…”  

Who do you ride with at Lee Valley?

“Neil Fachie, I haven’t raced with him since that Class 1 in Manchester but we’ve been training together and there’s a good bond.

“We complement each other; he’s a smooth rider which fits well with me – his usual partner, Matt Rotherham is much more physical than me.”

Do you miss the solo machine?

“For sure.

“I had planned to get back into Team Sprinting, with Jack Carlin and Ali. Fielding and myself – that’s potentially a medal winning team but I had problems with my back (disc bulge) which ruled out my participation, albeit I can still ride the tandem because it’s a different type of effort and I’ve eased back on the gym work.”

Lewis Stewart
Lewis Stewart. Photo©supplied

Who coaches you nowadays?

“Dave Daniell is our coach but just until the Games, after that he joins British Cycling as a coach on the Podium programme.”

Who are your opposition?

“Wales are strongest, Matt Rotherham who’s partnered Neil Fachie to many of his successes rides with my usual partner, James Ball; they’re a strong pair.

“Matt is English but the rule is that the tandem pilot can come from any country whilst the para stoker is a representative of the country they ride in the name of.

“There’s another Welsh tandem too – Stefan Lloyd and Alex Pope whilst England field Chris Latham and Steve Bate.

“I think there’ll be a New Zealand tandem and we’ve just heard that the Aussies are riding too.

“The Malaysians also ride, that’s a nation with a great sprinting tradition with riders like Azizulhasni Awang and Josiah Ng.

“They’re physical riders, the last time we raced against them they were headbutting me!”   

Lewis Stewart
Lewis Stewart pilots a tandem against the powerful Malaysians. Photo©supplied

Tell us about that beast you ride.

“It’s a UK Institute of Sport machine and is outrageously good.

“It was designed by the Greek former sprinter and the man originally behind Metron carbon frames who joined British Cycling and designed the ‘stealth’ bikes which have won so many medals for GB.

“It was actually lengthened for Tokyo so that the stoker could get tucked in better behind the pilot and improve the aerodynamics.”

What are your goals for the Games?

“I’ve never won the Kilometre so I would like to do that – and I want to continue my winning streak in the Tandem sprint!”

It was nice to catch up with Lewis and hear all that positivity coming down the line – we wish Lewis and Neil every success with their big black beast on the Lee Valley boards.