Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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Charles Fletcher – Scottish Grass Track Star

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Gordon Macrae messaged me the other day to say that he’d seen an interview with Scottish grass track star Charles Fletcher, and whilst it was OK for a lay person to read, perhaps Mr. Fletcher need to be asked some VeloVeritas questions…

Charles Fletcher. Photo©Harry Tweed

The basics please, Charles: how old are you, where are you from, are you married or single and what do you do for a living?

“I’m 26 from Grantown on Spey in the Cairngorms, single.

“At the moment I’m finishing my PhD in legal history at Edinburgh University and also pursuing a career as an artist.”

How did you get into ‘the gress?’

“I did my first games back in 2007 in my hometown of Grantown. At that time, I was a ski racer!

“I used to do a bit of Alpine (slalom, giant slalom) but I mainly did cross-country (at which I won two medals at the British champs U21) so cycling was really just a way to help build fitness during the summer for the winter to come.

“A friend of my Dad suggested I should give the cycling at our local games a try.

“Jack Maclean, father of track sprinter Craig, lent me the Flying Scot that Craig himself had used on the grass as a teenager so that I could take part.

“I won the three U16 races on the card and went home with £45 in my pocket, I thought; ‘this is alright!’ and it just went on from there.

“I also recall Evan Oliphant racing at Grantown Games that year a week before riding the Tour of Britain which was quite exciting for youngsters us at the games.”

Photo©Harry Tweed

Is it totally ‘open’ now so you can ride ‘The Games’ and SC/BC meetings?

“Yeah, the pro/amateur dichotomy is long gone, and you can now mix up ‘pro’ SHGA [Scottish Highland Games Association] meets and British Cycling ones.

“However, the hangover of this divide is still there, and we find that lots of people don’t realise that the SHGA events exist.

“It’s a shame there can’t be more cooperation between Scottish Cycling and the SHGA because the grass is a great way to develop your skills for other disciplines of cycling, especially for youths who live far away from the central belt facilities.

“The games can be quite a difficult scene to get into, the entry procedures are a bit antiquated to say the least, and equipment can be tricky to come, by but it’s worth persevering!

“Most games still only cost £5 to enter which is amazing value for money when you consider how expensive SC events are these days, especially on the velodrome.”

Give us a list of your titles on the grass, please.

“My big win was the 800m BC British Championships at Heckington in Lincolnshire in 2017.

“It’s an amazing venue at Heckington, tight banked bends and thousands of spectators.

“I get goose bumps just thinking about it and it was a big honour to be able to wear the stripes for a season!

“I’ve also had another three podiums at the British champs, including two bronzes in the 8km but I’m yet to win that one.

“In Scotland I’ve also won 16 SHGA Scottish titles, including two in one day at Inverkeithing last Saturday.

“This was a big moment for me as it means that I have now bagged to whole set: 800m, 1km, 1600m, 3200m, 4800m, 6400m and 8km, and I believe that not too many riders have managed to do that on the grass.”

Photo©Harry Tweed

I believe you had a bit of bad luck in England recently?

“I’m still annoyed about it; going into the last lap of the British 8km champs this year there were four of us in the front group about to sprint for the win when the guy on the front lost control and took out the whole group on the second bend.

“Normally you’d accept it as a racing incident, but it turned out the guy had his track slicks on despite the fact it was pouring with rain!

“He’d also caused a crash in the first race of the meet.

“I just thought it was totally disrespectful to his fellow riders to risk changing the outcome of the race like that. His actions also landed one of the riders in Hospital.

“Bring back bike checks I say!”

Apart from that one, what’s been your worst day on the grass?

“A recent bad day that springs to mind was last year at Burntisland Games.

“It was day three of the four days in a row we do in mid-July so the legs were a bit heavy anyway then I came down in a crash on the infamous ‘hairpin’ in the first race.

“Because of the heatwave the grass was like a doormat and I opened up an ulcer I’d got from a crash in a road race earlier in the season.

“I got hammered in the handicaps in the remaining races and it was just a grim day out, I went home penniless too!”

Charles won the 800m handicap at the Alve Highland Games; incorporating the new Lewis Oliphant Memorial presented by Les Oliphant (Evan and Lewis’ dad) and the boys’ niece. Photo©Harry Tweed

Tell us about your training – do you have a coach?

“I don’t have a coach anymore.

“I feel that I’ve reached the stage that I know how to structure my training season and to get the best out of myself.

“One of the nicest things about the grass is that because the races are quite short you can avoid having to do the really long miles which is useful when you’re trying to do other things on the side.

“I’m usually training around 15 hours a week.

“The biggest improvements to my racing came when I started training with an Austrian guy named Jan Pospisil who used to work in my faculty in Edinburgh.

“Besides cutting criticism from my back wheel on rides, he introduced me to proper gym work with weights and that made all the difference to my riding.”

Do you have your own stretch of grass to practice on?

“Back in home in Grantown, the Cairngorm CC used to run a fortnightly grass track league and we’d train on the 200m track there.

“When I’m studying down in Edinburgh I’m able to use the grass athletics track at Duddingston for flying efforts, standing starts etc. Everything else though is done on the road and turbo.”

Photo©Harry Tweed

Tell us about your frame.

“I ride a custom Bob Jackson Vigorelli.

“It’s Reynolds 631 tubing, a beautiful machine in flamboyant orange with a barber’s pole that I’ve had for five seasons now.

“Steel is still the best thing for the grass.

“The flex helps to absorb the bumps and the old steel frames give you the clearance to run the wide tubs.”

What wheels and tyres do you run?

“My ‘dry’ wheels are Miche hubs laced to carbon rims with Vittoria Cross XN tubulars.

“In the wet I ride Dura Ace hubs and Challenge Fango tubulars.”

I know gear selection is top secret but what range of ratios do you take to a meeting with you?

“My go-to gearing is 79 inches.

“The tracks and under-wheel conditions vary so much we use quite a bewildering array of gears.

“For instance, at Inverkeithing last week I rode 86 inches whilst at Ceres a few weeks before that it was 75.

“I love that variety though, even on a track I’ve raced 10 times before you’re never quite sure what the Scottish summer is going to throw at you!”

Charles resplendent in his British Champion’s jersey. Photo©Harry Tweed

Which is your favourite park and why?

“That’s a tricky question.

“Being a bit biased I used to love the tight, off camber, 200m ‘trick’ track at Grantown; however, the Games aren’t running this year.

“I also love Strathmore Highland Games at Glamis castle.

“It’s a beautiful setting and always has a great atmosphere thanks to all the enthusiastic tourists lining the track.

“The bumpy egg-shaped track with its climb really suits me as well.”

Photo©Charles Fletcher

Have you fancied trying your hand on the Glasgow boards?

“A couple of seasons ago I was going to track league most weeks.

“However, I realised quickly that it was going to take a lot of time for me to be competitive and I didn’t have the time, money or desire to pursue that.

“Also, for me, it’s just not as fun as grass track which has the elements of technical bike handling to keep things fun and interesting.”

And what about the road?

“Normally, I race road in the spring to build up to the grass which starts at the end of May; however, this year I’ve not raced road at all.

“I go alright on the road and have picked up quite a few podiums but again I just don’t enjoy it as much as the grass.

“Why anyone would choose to ride round for hours on end, with little prize money in front of no spectators is a bit beyond me to be honest!

“We get all the action at grass track but packed into a couple of minutes of racing, thousands of spectators and it pays for itself!

Photo©Harry Tweed

What’s still on the CF ‘to do’ list?

“That 8km British title is the one big thing in grass track that still eludes me.

“I also hear that they do grass track in France, Australia, USA and Trinidad so maybe a grass track world tour could be on the cards!”

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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