WHEN Sir Chris Hoy announced, a year ago this Friday, that two home Games would be one too many, it was more a blow to morale than a devastating setback to Team Scotland’s medal prospects.
As the greatest velodrome rider of all time, Hoy would, of course, have been an invaluable asset to the home team effort in Glasgow, even at 38. But Scotland’s athletes fared pretty well in Delhi in 2010 when he wasn’t fit to compete, and his career haul of four Commonwealth medals – two gold and two bronze – actually pales in comparison to his superhuman Olympic successes.
Still, the news had the effect of a blow to the solar plexus. It left the country wondering who, if anyone, would be able to fill the void and add a Scottish context to what will be a thrilling four days of track racing in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome this summer. Now, 12 months on, some worthy candidates have emerged not only on the track but on the road and in the mountains, with the result that followers of the home team ought to have some cycling success to toast at the 20th Commonwealth Games after all.
It might just prove that it is in the mountains where Scots will mine the richest seam. Cathkin Braes Country Park, just to the south of Glasgow, is where the men’s and women’s cross-country races will take place on 29 July and Gary Coltman, performance director at Scottish Cycling, is not afraid of making confident predictions, with the proviso that the team has not yet been picked.
“In mountain biking the prospects are good,” he says. “We’ve got arguably the two best riders in the UK, Grant Ferguson who is the British champion, and Kenta Gallacher. They are both strong contenders for the team and we’ve actually got another five guys chasing them for the three positions. That’s a really good situation and I’ve had a few comments saying that the Scottish team is going to be the hardest team to get on for the Commonwealth Games in the mountains. How will that translate into medals? We’ve definitely got a medal chance there with Grant, no doubt about it, he is getting better all the time [he claimed his first World Cup podium place on Sunday].
“With the females, we’ve got Lee Craigie who has always qualified; she is the British women’s champion. She will be a very popular competitor, and medals aren’t out of the question. Lesley Paterson is another girl who we haven’t talked about too much who is Scottish, based in America and has been doing ultra-triathlon stuff. We’ve potentially got a secret weapon there.”
Not so secret is the four-time Tour de France stage winner who will make a valedictory appearance on the road. David Millar, the reformed drug cheat, wrote in his autobiography that representing Scotland in Delhi four years ago, where he won gold and bronze, was one of the highlights of his career because it was such a refreshing change to compete outside the pro-cycling bubble. It would be wrong, however, to think that Scotland’s road prospects start and end with 37-year-old Millar.
“David’s main focus will be on the time trial,” says Coltman. “In the road race, he has acknowledged the ability of Andy Fenn, who has a chance of winning that race. He’s got a terrific sprint on him. He’s definitely a very quick finisher but if we can get them both up there in the last 20 per cent of the race, you just never know. We are looking at building a team around the two of them.”
Where the road racing might be watched by hundreds of thousands, a lucky few spectators have tickets for the track, where the absence of Hoy will be keenly felt as the great riders of England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand dominate and young Scots such as Callum Skinner and John Paul look for an opening. Could Katie Archibald squeeze herself onto the podium? Certainly the 20-year-old’s emergence over the past year, winning European and world gold medals, has given rise to optimism and Coltman believes she will have three chances, in the individual pursuit as well as points and scratch races.
“You are looking at almost a world-class field so medals are going to be very tough to come by. Because Katie is on such a steep upward curve, we have every hope that she could medal, but we’re under no illusions about how tough that is going to be as well,” said Coltman. “I knew that as soon as Katie got down into the team environment in Manchester, particularly in the team pursuit squad, she would flourish. So I’m not really surprised by her progress, but I can see why everybody else is.”
Thanks to Glasgow 2014 making this the most inclusive Commonwealth Games to para-sport athletes, the strongest hope of Scottish medals is held by the tandem partnerships, Aileen McGlynn/Louise Haston, Neil Fachie/Craig MacLean and Laura Cluxton/Lyndsey Carson.
Ironically, the rider on Coltman’s radar with the strongest Commonwealth Games heritage looks to have ridden himself out of contention. Ross Edgar won gold, silver and bronze in Melbourne and was Team Scotland’s flagbearer in Delhi. But, as Coltman tells us: “Ross switched to endurance after London and he has struggled, to be honest. He hasn’t met our qualification criteria and I’m not sure what his future holds.”
Four years ago in India, after Hoy pulled out and Edgar crashed out, Charline Joiner and Jenny Davies won silver in the team sprint. There is too much talent for there not to be any cheer for Scottish cycling fans in Glasgow. It only remains to be seen who will provide it.