I meet up with Urquhart at his family home in Watton, Norfolk, on a beautiful spring morning. The softly spoken Scot has a genial manner, which belies the inner focus and grit that drives him.
“I’m usually full-on with everything I do,” says Urquhart, “When I’m back at my regiment I’m fully 100 per cent doing what I’m doing there, and they know that when I’m away training on the bike I’m 100 per cent focused on what I’m doing.”
Urquhart joined the army at 16 and has a 22-year commission, “which still has four years to run, as the army only counts the start of the commissioned service from the age of 18,” Urquhart tells me. “I’m very lucky because I’ve been in my regiment for a long time now. I’m very fortunate that they give me the time that I want.
I give them regular updates and let them know what races I’m doing and they are happy to let me train.”
As we set out into the picturesque roads and villages of Norfolk, Urquhart tells me about his Scottish background and how he started out racing bikes.
“I’m a plastic Scot,” jokes Urquhart. “I was actually born in Richmond, near Catterick, when my dad was stationed there with his Royal Signals Regiment.
He was originally from Tiree, a little island in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. I still have family out there.”
There is another island connection in the family, with Urquhart’s mother’s side originating from the Troodos mountains of Cyprus. “I’ve lived all over the world as my dad was moved to various military stations over the years,” Urquhart tells me. “But I lived on Tiree from the age of 10 until I joined the army at 16.
“On Tiree there was no real cycling going on but I used to ride to the Co-op to stack shelves after school every day, which was a 10-mile round trip. I always used to be fascinated by the Tour de France and used to watch the Tour on Channel 4. The mountain climbers suffering up the climbs. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I was just fascinated by it.
“When I joined the army there was a regiment cycling team. The Army Festival was on in 1997, and Keith Murray was involved in that, and John Chapman, and they put a bike together for me. It was Murray that introduced me to Pete Read. He’s the guy that taught me the basics and was my first coach.
Pete said let’s do a test and he was gobsmacked because I did a 21-03 for my first 10, a 56-00 for my first 25 and a 1-56 for a 50, all on a normal road bike. That was down in Andover on some fast courses. I won my first road race at Thruxton. I had an old Halfords helmet I’d had in the garage, threw on some stuff and just had an old bike. I didn’t think about things much and just rode away from everyone.
“That one I remember, as when I went past the start finish line they didn’t ring the bell for me, but rang the bell for the bunch because they thought I must have been out the back. By the time I came round again, I told them and I had my arms up in the air and they couldn’t believe it.”
“So things went on from there. I won the Wessex Divisional championships, the Scottish road race championships, Tour of the North and went to the Commonwealth Games in 2002.
“After the Games I took two years off back in uniform and came back again to have a really good season in 2005 and 2006. 2005 was one of my best seasons, and that was when I came back after two years off. That’s why I feel this year is going to be a really good season because I’m fresh, I’m really keen and I’ve got something to prove. The last couple of races I’ve been suffering, but it’s all helping me for when I dish some out of my own.”
Burning off Boonen
We stop at the Deepdale cafe in Burnham Deepdale, along the north Norfolk coast road. It’s a chance for a coffee and a chat about one of Urquhart’s career highlights.
Urquhart starts with his experience of the inaugural Tour of Britain back in 2004, when he represented Scotland. It was the first stage that started and finished in Manchester after going out to Blackpool.
“We had a team meeting in the morning with the team manager Brian Smith who was looking after us, and he was telling us, ‘Look boys it’s a different class of rider here.’ I was known to be quite an aggressive rider, so I attacked anyway.
I remember Tom Boonen and the Italians were shouting at me for being a wee bit anti, and I remember Jason MacIntyre, when I looked back, punching his arm up in the air and shouting, ‘Go on, Duncan!’ I’ll always remember that.
“Eventually, two of us got away and I got the mountains jersey. But I really suffered in the headwind on the way back. We had 20 minutes and I came in 20 minutes after everyone else, so I lost 40 minutes, but it was well worth it. I suffered for the rest of the race after that.”
Cafe stop over, we get back on the road for the final leg along the coast before heading inland again back to Watton. Urquhart chats about his comeback. “I’d started training again since last October,” says Urquhart. “But then my dad passed away in November, which was a big shock to everyone in the family.
“I started again in January, and I was about 81kg and in a bit of a state. I went out to Cyprus for five weeks and did some really good training up in the Troodos mountains. Then I came back. You cannot beat racing. You can train all you want, but racing is the best thing.
“I’ve lost all that weight now and I’m down to 71kg, so I’m really up for doing something this season. I know I’m going to get a result because the Endura team have people that are putting good money and effort into making sure it’s going to happen.”
The pace starts to lift after Dereham. “From Dereham back to the house is about 10 miles, and I try to simulate the end of a race here. There are a couple of little drags in there, and if I’m flying along those then I know I’m up for a good weekend.
“I’ll do this route two or three times a week, and then I have other variations in the area. I don’t really analyse my training that much either. The majority of the time I just go on feel and just look at my average speed. When I start averaging 23mph that’s when I know I’m going to be up there. It’s 22-22.5mph, at the moment, so I’m not too far away.”
Starting from the Norfolk town of Watton, head north towards the north-west Norfolk coast via Swattham and Brancaster. The generally quiet rural B roads meander up the county, passing through pleasant towns and villages. There’s plenty to see, with the picturesque churches and numerous windmills. From Brancaster head east along the main coastal road where there are opportunities to take a detour and get down to the sea. The southern leg of the route from Cley-next-the-Sea passes through Holt and Dereham again along rural roads. There are no significant climbs, though the roads do roll along at times over what would generally be classed a flat route. The busiest section is the final 10 miles or so from Dereham back to Watton.
Your guide: Duncan Urquhart
Lives: Watton, Norfolk
Status: Married to Claire. Three sons Andrew, George and Charlie, plus Milly the Jack Russell
Best result: KOM jersey wearer Tour of Britain 2004. Won Tour of Pendle 2005
Hobbies: Spending time with his family
Philosophy: Give it everything