When we last spoke with Lewis Stewart almost a year ago, he was preparing to ride the Tandem Sprint and Kilometre Time Trial on the boards of the Lee Valley Velodrome in the Commonwealth Games, and so he did, piloting Neil Fachie to Gold in the Men’s Tandem B 1000m Time Trial final and silver in the Men’s Tandem B Sprint Final.
We’ve never spoken to Jonny Mitchell before, much to our shame as it sounds like he has an interesting story to tell. However we caught up with them both recently to hear about their upcoming (ad)venture; launching Scotland’s very first UCI Track Team, in 2024.
Both men have raced for GB on the world stage; Stewart on the front of the tandem and Mitchell moving into coaching after undergoing major heart surgery in 2017. Since then he has gone on to coach with the Danish track cycling team and at the UCI World Cycling Centre (led by Scottish sprint legend Craig MacLean) and founded GTRC in 2018.
Firstly gents, thank you for speaking to us. Can you explain what Glasgow Track Racing Club is and why you set it up?
Jonny: “I’d started riding as a youth at Meadowbank and there was a vibrant track community there – riders, officials, volunteers and coaches – all operating without a roof!
“We’d have multiple international events held there every year and there was a clear route with taster nights, weekly Track Leagues, etc. that people could use to try the track and get into racing.
“When I had to stop racing, the Scottish track scene was pretty dead.
“On the performance side of things Scottish Cycling were putting all their resources into getting riders onto the GB programmes which realistically means youth and juniors. We can see from results at Commonwealth and Olympic Games that that model bore fruit, but anyone over the age of 18 coming in didn’t really get any support or expertise in how to get into racing, never mind progress as a racer.
“I felt ‘what’s the point of having all these top racers if there’s no scene underneath it?'”
Lewis: ”From there we set about creating a club based at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome to increase both the quantity and quality of people riding and racing track in Scotland.
“We’ve maintained an open door policy so anyone can join regardless of ability, age or gender – the only condition is that they have to be engaged in the sport.
“We’d rather have a club of 10 really brilliant people than 100 people who don’t know each other. Luckily we now have nearly 50 amazing people!”
Since then where has GTRC got to?
Jonny: “So we now have a membership of 47 people aged from 17-66 years old, ranging from riders who are just starting out to current Olympic medallist Jack Carlin.
“We run sessions every Saturday afternoon on the velodrome, we’ve organised a round of the British National Sprinters League in 2023 and are currently partnering with the Women’s Track Fund to provide more opportunities for women to get into the sport.
“We’ve got a really exciting crop of sprint talent coming through who are putting down world class performances with no funding or material support.”
Lewis: “On the racing front we’ve also had some pretty amazing success, with three medals at the British Nationals in January.
“We’ve established ourselves as the top track team in the UK and we’re beginning to challenge the superpower GB programme.
“We also recently raced the UCI Class 1 race in Ghent, Belgium where Niall Monks knocked out former World Keirin Champion Azizulhasni Awang in the Keirin before eventually finishing 5th.
“Niall also finished 2nd and 3rd at a UCI C2 in Tel-Aviv, Israel, just behind the new Israeli sprint sensation Mikhail “Misha” Yakovlev.”
And now you’re planning to launch as a UCI Track ‘Trade’ Team next season, why take this step?
Lewis: “With the quality of riders that we now have within GTRC it’s a natural progression for us.
“Being a UCI track team gives us the opportunity to ride on the world stage at Nations’ Cup and showcase our project.
“For us this isn’t just about the riders we have right now, but the riders we haven’t even found yet.
“We want to create a system where anyone can get into track cycling in Scotland and if they have the passion, motivation and ability, we can support them to the highest level.”
Jonny: “I simply want our club and this new team to help grow the sport in Scotland.
“All of these riders train on public sessions, they coach or volunteer in some capacity in their spare time and are an active part of our track community.
“The more that we can we support riders onto the world stage, the more inspiring that is for grassroots riders and it shows racing on the track is viable – and safe!
“Plus, with the Worlds here in August it’s a perfect time to springboard off the expected interest we’ll see in the sport.”
The HUUB Wattbike team run by Dan Bigham is the most notable UCI Track Team of recent years, what’s involved in setting one up?
Jonny: “As we’ve discovered, there’s a lot of admin to set this up!
“First of all there’s a pretty hefty €3500 registration fee to just exist, alongside the typical team costs of cycling kit, clothing, equipment and logistics.
“Then to be able to race at Nations Cup level we need to be in the top five ranked teams in the world – per event.
“That means sending riders to UCI C1 and C2 events across the world in order to pick up points.”
Lewis: “Over the years the two of us have built-up contacts around the world so we already have invites to race in Israel, T-Town in Pennsylvania, USA and Malaysia next year.
“We have a strong relationship with the Belgian track programme under Tim Carswell so we link in with them as much as we can.
“They’ve been really open and welcoming in letting us train in Ghent with their team.”
So how will you go about funding the project then?
Jonny: “The biggest component of our funding comes from commercial sponsorship and partnerships.
“With the 2023 UCI World Champs coming to Glasgow in August we know this is an incredible moment for cycling in Scotland. It’s an amazing opportunity to capitalise on the increased profile, publicity and scale of cycling in Scotland.
“We’ve got a several packages we can offer commercial partners in return for sponsorship.”
Lewis: “Yes, and as well as that we offer the unique platform of being a genuine community of cyclists; this project spans from grassroots where we get people into the sport, all the way to the top level where we want to support Scottish riders on the world stage.”
How can any interested companies find out more?
Lewis: “We’re planning to run a corporate track day on 6th of July at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.
“This will allow any interested parties the opportunity to come down, ride the same track the World Championships is going to be held on only four weeks later, and learn more about us and our project.
Jonny: “Companies can also get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org“.