'˜The reason for cycling's success is also the reason for its demise', says Doncaster's Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart had the most successful year of his professional career in 2018, winning a week-long stage race in France and representing his country at the Commonwealth Games.

Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 9:26 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 12:52 pm
Tom Stewart

Yet like many of his fellow British riders who do not ply their trade at the very top of the sport, he found himself out of work come the late autumn.

Stewart, 28, from Doncaster, rode for a British continental team backed by JLT Condor, a sponsor that was pulling out at the end of the year, making upwards of 20 cyclists redundant.

Theirs was not an isolated case.

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OnePro Cycling, AquaBlue Sport and Yorkshire-based Holdsworth Racing all withdrew from the professional peloton at the end of 2018, sending dozens of riders to the Job Centre.

But there was no animosity from Stewart to his employers, far from it.

The rider who won the seven-day Tour de Normandie in March in the black and orange of JLT Condor, knows the business '“ knows it all too well, in fact.

'The reason for cycling's success is also the reason for its demise. That's the beauty of our sport,' he said.

'How ever many millions of people come out to watch the Tour de Yorkshire is absolutely fantastic for our sport, but they're not paying to watch.

'The Tour de France is the most watched sport in the world. But again, it's free to watch. People aren't paying and, therefore, it's difficult for teams to capitalise on that success.

'The amount of profile companies are getting through the television exposure and the impressions on social media etcetera they are getting for their sponsorship of cycling teams is huge, but, at the end of the day, you're not getting people paying to stand at the side of the road and watch.

'JLT, for instance, put in a phenomenal amount of money over a number of years to allow us to travel the world cycling and we had a great ride with them.

'But sponsors move on.'

The most high-profile of those, of course, is Sky, who announced before Christmas that they would be withdrawing their huge financial support at the end of 2019.

The future is uncertain for even the biggest names, Tour de France winners Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome among them, but it is unlikely they will have trouble finding employment in 2020 if no-one comes in to take over the British team.

In the event of his own unemployment, Stewart was only out of work for a matter of weeks.

Canyon DHB have bucked the trend of British teams by growing instead of folding, and have hoovered up some of the out-of-work riders.

In Stewart, they have acquired a cyclist who might not be the biggest name, but he knows how to win and his sense of seizing the moment is obvious.

'For me, cycling has always been an adventure,' says Stewart, who is entering his seventh year as a professional.

'If I can earn enough money to pay my mortgage and my food bill, I'm happy.

'Some riders are at different points in their career. But I just take a step back and think someone is paying me to ride my bike, to do what I love.

'For me, winning a bike race makes me ecstatic. It's an emotion you can't manufacture, the amount of hard work and sacrifice that has gone into it '“ the hours of training, the tactics, the elements of luck you need. You can't fake that.

'It's a different type of adrenaline. And I just look to replicate that, have adventures, create stories and days that I'll remember for the rest of my life. That's what sport's about.'

He will look to build on his Tour de Normandie win and Commonwealth Games experience '“ 'the Commonwealths just resonate with people outside cycling and it was a helluva experience' '“ on the continent this year.

'We've got an exciting year coming up,' says Stewart, who is joined at Canyon DHB by Wakefield's Ollie Wood and Commonwealth Games track gold medallist Charlie Tanfield, of Great Ayton.

'We'll have a lot of races in Belgium and Holland, some really tough, hard races and that's what I enjoy.

'I like going to bike races where you come back with a story to tell whether you've won it or it's a DNF (did not finish).

'That's what it's about for me. It'll be good fun to be racing at that level.'

Closer to home, he hopes to makes a return to the Tour de Yorkshire after missing last year's renewal through illness.

'You go through old mining towns like Upton and South Elmsall, you see these names on a map and think nothing of it, but you get there and they're five deep watching the race,' says Stewart, of a race that runs from May 2-5.

'They're not cycling fans, they're just people who have come out of their house.

'That is what it's about '“ communities coming together. They've had a good day, they've had a barbecue and they've come out and watched the cycling and it's a helluva spectacle.'