FOR years he’s been the top rider in Britain’s second tier.
But Craig Cook has revealed how Grand Prix racing and signing for Glasgow Tigers has helped him get even better – and there’s more to come yet.
The 31-year-old is on an incredible run of form for his new Championship club – he’s unbeaten in his last 24 races and has a calculated match average, including bonus points, of 11.22 out of 12.
He bagged his fourth maximum in a row against rivals Edinburgh at Ashfield last night, helping the side to a 56-34 win, to take the Tigers one step closer to the play-offs.
Cook has also overcome his poor early World Championship form – showing more promising signs in the last two rounds – with only a broken chain getting in his way of a potential semi-final place in Saturday’s event in Slovenia.
Asked about the secret behind his recent success, the Glasgow No 1 said: “My improving form has been part and parcel of Glasgow giving me the chance to race more often.
“And we really have figured something out that works on the bike – I’m not 100% yet but I’d say I’m 90%. There’s still more to come from me, and you’ll know when it comes.
“In Grand Prix racing there’s no forgiveness – you have to squeeze every ounce out of it. That’s the way I’m learning to ride now, to squeeze everything out of the bike.
“I think that’s showing in how I’m riding against the other riders in this league. No disrespect to any of them, but at Grand Prix level it’s another step up, and it’s something that has really opened my eyes on the track, off the track, mechanically, in the workshop – everything is just done that little bit better.
“This year has been a learning experience for me, a massive learning curve, and I’m going to put this into my future racing, and I am going to come back better and harder.”
Cook insists he’s still got a way to go to match the performances of Tigers greats like James Grieves and the “phenomenal” Joe Screen – who he’s “seen do some fantastic things in Glasgow colours”.
But he concedes his arrival in the Tigers side has pushed his team-mates to raise their game.
“It’s not about me – it’s a seven-man outfit. But you’ve only got to look at what Edinburgh did and the changes they made, it definitely strengthened them, so it shows how it can work,” he said.
“It’s probably beneficial to the team to have me and it’s confidence-boosting for the other guys when I can go out in heat one and do it – they can take positives from that, instead of being on the receiving end of a 5-1 in the first heat and getting negativity from that.
“Hopefully I can take a little bit of pressure off the guys, and they can get relaxed and enjoy their riding, and ride more loosely.”
It was with Edinburgh that Cook established himself as a star in the British league, and he recalls going on a longer unbeaten run than the one he’s currently on while representing the Monarchs.
However, he insisted: “It’s not about that. Every time I go out there, I race the track – I never race the rider in whatever I do.
“I try to go as fast as I possibly can. If there’s an opportunity of team riding, I’ll do so, but if you’re out in front and there’s no one there with me, I’m just going to go, and I race the track as hard and as fast as I can.
“In the Grand Prix you don’t do any team riding, you just work on riding hard, so I try to go as fast as I can and it’s only by doing that you’re going to improve and become a faster and better rider.”
The Cumbrian, who will lead Glasgow into battle at Ipswich tomorrow and Lakeside on Friday as they look to cement their play-off place, showed no signs of bring fazed in facing his former club last night.
He says he put all thoughts of past glories with the Monarchs to one side.
“Nothing affects me,” he added.
“I’ve been through a lot of issues but when it comes to raceday I’m mentally strong and as soon as I put that helmet on I don’t feel like anyone is going to beat me.
“As soon as I went to that start line, I was convinced I was going to win. My confidence was knocked with a few issues last year but I am aiming to get back to that mental strength, and when you believe and you know that you’re going to win a race, it increases your chance of winning.”
Broc Nicol, the American who impressed as a guest reserve for Edinburgh last night, takes Nathan Greaves’ place in the Tigers line-up for the two meetings.
Three points would all but guarantee Glasgow’s top-four spot – though fewer would be required if results elsewhere were more favourable ahead of Sunday’s cut-off for qualifying.