Edinburgh’s title-winning cycle speedway team, the Falcons, are today celebrating a major signing coup after recruiting World, Olympic and Commonwealth medal winner Craig MacLean MBE.
Debuting for Falcons in an away match at Hull, Maclean proved an instant hit as he helped achieve the victory which led to a successful winner-takes-all Northern Division Two clincher against Sheffield last weekend.
MacLean has enjoyed a highly successful career on the track, winning Olympic silver in the 2000 Sydney Games and striking World gold two years later also in the team sprint event, but the closest he had ever come to a cycle speedway track was when he competed in BMX as a youngster.
And that is where the Falcons connection kicked in according to team manager, Stevie Gilroy.
“We knew we would be short of a rider or two for the crucial visit to Hull because of holiday commitments, when team member Neil Swanson recalled riding with Craig for a BMX outfit managed by his dad, George,” revealed Gilroy, adding: “Neil suggested giving Craig, who is based in Manchester, a call and to our delight and near disbelief he was up for a new bike challenge. Firstly, I had to register him with the cycling authorities whose administrator was flabbergasted but instantly gave approval when it was realised Craig had no commitment to any other team.
“In his first race, I expected he would just find his way around the track for four laps and I partnered him with our star rider, Mike Hewitson.
“To everybody’s surprise, except perhaps his own, Craig rocketed out of the gate to lead by the first bend and win at a canter.”
Maclean, awarded the MBE last year for services to cycling, said: “I don’t think my competing had much to do with the Falcons success but it was great to be asked to take part in a wonderful sport but one that is not very mainstream in cycling terms.
“I was keen to have a go and throw myself in.
“It was taxing and if the speeds did not reach the 40mph of the velodrome there were occasions when I had to be back on the bike within ten minutes of the previous race which was quite different.
“In cycle speedway raiders are always very tight together which was another challenge in a race that is over in about 40 seconds.
“I’m looking forward to competing again and would be happy to have some imput trying to get cycle speedway some extra focusd maybe as part of the Revolution track cycling series.
“Perhaps we could have as BMX versus cycle speedway match at an indoor arena?”
MacLean, now 41, is currently a registered pilot for visually impaired cyclists including winner Neil Fachie at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games during the summer and that will continue to have priority - with cycle speedway a good fitness aid.
Gilroy, who manages the Royal Mail Resources Centre at Sighthill, believes his new signing has been bitten by the cycle speedway bug.
“A successful season in which we also won the Two Rivers League is now ending but Craig told me he’d be acquiring kit and will turn out for us next season when circumstances paermit albeit in away matches due to travelling.
“That’s ideal for us because home matches at Redbraes Park are no problem but sometimes it is difficult for riders to make themselves available for trips to England where we race frequently.
“I really can’t believe our good fortune because in cycling terms, and given Craig’s pedigree, it is a bit like finding football’s Lionel Messi willing to turn out at Leith Links!”
“It is a tremendous feather in the cap of cycle speedway that he wants to continue competing, especially in our colours.
“And, although after three races Craig told me ‘my legs have gone’ I was surprised because his thighs are almost the width of my chest on reflection, it spoke volumes for the demands of cycle speedway given his tremendous fitness.
“Despite adjusting he produced two race wins, a second and a third place and then took part in our A team match immediately after where he was unbeaten.”
Falcons’ award-winning season is now almost complete apart from a couple of club events at Redbraes Park when the team’s oldest member, 71-year-old Johnny Murphy, is expected to compete having turned out in a league race this season.
“Johnny is an inspiration to many of our younger riders against whom he is liable to be racing this weekend,” added Gilroy.
“There is a lot of rough and tumble in the sport but he takes it all in his stride!”