When Tom Stewart rode clear of the Tour of Britain peloton for the second time in a week last season, he quietly identified himself as one of the home nation’s brightest prospects.
The Madison Genesis rider is not a product of the Academy system, nor did he find himself riding in the company of IAM Cycling’s Matthias Brändle and Movistar’s Alex Dowsett, Hour Record holders present and perhaps future, after a glittering amateur career.
Instead, Stewart rode on equal terms with his more accomplished companions almost until the end of the national tour’s sixth stage in his first full season as a bike rider. He broke clear with Brändle and Dowsett just 50km from Bath and remained with them until the finish in Hemel Hempstead, more than 1.50 ahead of a pursuing peloton led, with increasing desperation, by yellow jersey Michal Kwiatkowski (Quick-Step). Only a few missed turns gave any indication of Stewart’s suffering.
Like his team manager, Roger Hammond, Stewart gained a degree before turning his full attention to cycling, and, after an early stint with Raleigh, is set to begin a second season with Madison Genesis.
It is likely that his performances will be watched with interest by those outside of the tight circle of domestic racing in 2015. Stewart’s most eye-catching ride to date was far from an isolated show of strength last season.
His first assault on the Tour of Britain came in a breakaway on stage three, and in the radically different environment of city centre crit racing, he won the final two rounds of the Tour Series, before cracking the top ten in the British championships by finishing alongside Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas.
A Yorkshireman, Stewart gives the impression of one with little taste for reminiscence and provides a blunt assessment of his abilities: he is not a great time trialist, sprinter, or climber, he claims, admitting to no more than being better than most after four or five hours in the saddle.
His unforgiving analysis may be unjust. Victory on the tight, technical street circuit at Woking showed that this former mountain biker is no mean bike handler, and his decisive attack on the brutal slope that punctuated the Jersey course proved that he is not entirely without climbing skills. Two victories in hour-long crits also lighten his own dour assessment that he is required to outlast his opposition. He has speed, too.
Versatility is key for the Continental rider, he concedes. It is not in the domestic pro’s gift to target specific races. Home victories are what will count most for Madison Genesis’ British sponsor, he continues, but he is convinced that the team’s increased firepower (Erick Rowsell and Martyn Irvine are among Hammond’s new recruits) to do damage in UCI races overseas.
Stewart sees a parallel between the team’s progress and his own and is clearly thriving in an environment in which he feels challenged, but not out of his depth. After wintering variously in New Zealand and on Gran Canaria, he will train with his team on Mallorca until their season begins.
Stewart did not know if he had been selected for Madison Genesis’ opening fixture at the Tour de Normandie when 1 spoke to him at the team launch on Thursday, but he is surely an obvious candidate for such a tough parcours. Rowsell has won there previously. It is not beyond Stewart to do the same.