Friday, July 19, 2024

Mark Stewart – “The GB Academy is pretty intense”


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Mark Stewart
Mark Stewart.

It’s wee while since top Scottish trackman, Mark Stewart featured in our pages but he was home recently from GB squad duties and his base in ‘la Bella Italia’ for his brother’s wedding and has been taking in a few local time trials in preparation for next Thursday’s British Cycling Time Trial Championships at Stockton-on-Tees.

We thought we best ‘have a word’ before he’s off around Europe, again.

Welcome home, Mark!

“Cheers, yes home for my brother’s wedding and I’ve used the opportunity to do some local time trials to prepare for the British U23 TT which is next Thursday down at Stockton-on-Tees.

“First though, I have the Beaumont Trophy – which is in the North East too – and then the British U23 Road Race on the Sunday after the time trial.”

How does the Central Scotland weather compare to Italy?

“It’s not stopped raining since I got back – it’s not like it’s showers, it’s just never stopped!

“The weather in Italy has been really good, 30 degrees, some days – we’re near the mountains so there are thunder storms but they pass pretty quickly.”

How about the motivation to race in Fife or Tayside after the glam of Italy?

“I like the experience, it’s nice to race locally and see that nothing has changed, you still have an old boy for a minute man who you catch quickly – it’s good for the morale to catch five or six guys in ten miles.

“They’re not big into testing in Italy so we don’t get the chance to ride many.

“I rode the Fife hilly 19 mile TT and broke Stuart Duff’s record for that course and did the Dundee ‘10’ the other night and did a 20 minute ride on training wheels.

“I’ve had a pretty hectic spell – the Tour of Yorkshire, a madison on the track in Germany, the Ronde de l’Isard and then the Course de la Paix; it’s good to get home and be able to do some specific preparation.

“You can’t prepare for everything so I’m focussing on the British Time Trial Championship – and the training for that will help my team pursuiting.

“I’ve been looking at my numbers and I’m pretty happy with them.”

Any palmarès to report?

“Not really, I’m just getting back to where I should be now though. Before the Berlin Six Day back in February – where I was going well – I’d been in Tenerife and did two 30 hour weeks at altitude; then straight after Berlin I went to Italy and was training really well but then I had a bad patch in April.

“I’d just done too much and dug myself into a hole; I came home, had a week or two off and now I’m starting to get back to where I want to be.

“In the races I’ve ridden I’ve been playing a team role; it’s taking me a while to crack the road – but I will!

“There are still some good races to come in the second part of the season – L’Avenir, Olympia Tour, Worlds…”

How are you settling in to ‘Italian ways?’

“I’m enjoying it but as you can imagine it’s pretty intense with eight guys in the team house which is about 20 kilometres east of Brescia near the Montichiari velodrome – it’s a situation which makes you decide whether you really love it or not.

“For instance, Germain Burton has decided it’s not for him and has come home – he still loved riding his bike but says he’s lost the competitive drive…

“It’s a mix of guys on the squad, there’s Gabriel Cullaigh who was third in the U23 Gent-Wevelgem and second on a stage in L’Isard; he’s very strong, he just grinds up the climbs on a big gear – but my forte is the track, I know I have work to do on the road.”

Mark Stewart
Mark (r) with Germain Burton at the London Six. Photo©Ed Hood

Tell us about David Millar’s contribution.

“He’s not there full time but comes out for a few days at a time; he’s threatened to come out on the bike with us but hasn’t, yet.

“His knowledge of the sport is vast, after all he’s worn the leader’s jersey in all three of the Grand Tours, hasn’t he?

“He was a time trial specialist and he’s been giving us a lot of good advice on how to ride them.”

And what about the track?

“First up are the European U23 Track Championships at Montichiari July 12th to 17th – we don’t have a lot of time for specific track training after the British.”

What about the Fiorenzuola summer Six Day, that’s not too far away from you, is it?

“Yes, there’s talk of us riding that because there are UCI points available in some of the events but the thing is that it runs from July 18th to 23rd so it starts the day after the Europeans.

“After the Olympics, Heiko (Heiko Salzwedel, GB team pursuit coach, ed.) has said that he’s like younger riders to have their chance at the European Elite Track Champs in Paris in October and at the Worlds in Hong Kong in April; so I’m hoping riders like Ollie Woods, Matt Gibson and I get to step forward.

“Apparently there’s also a World Cup in Glasgow in October which I’d love to ride but details of it are really hard to come by (VeloVeritas would endorse that, there’s no mention of it on the UCI website yet, ed.)”

And the winter Six Days?

“I hope that this year I can ride some, yes – and I’d be looking to make the podium…”

Mark Stewart
Germain and Mark dominated the Gent U23 Six and Mark is looking to move up to the elite event. Photo©Ed Hood

And we have to ask – the ‘Shane Saga.’

“With being out in Italy and at races we were out of the way when it all broke.

“He can be a bit of a scary guy but he did a good job and always made it clear to riders that he wasn’t there to be liked.

“I think he was a great second in command – David Brailsford was much more of a politician.

“The man is knowledgeable though, you can’t question that.

“At the World Cup in Hong Kong he watched us do just one training session on the boards in the team pursuit; as soon as we came down he was able to give proper specific feedback on the track and how it should be ridden, where to change, best lines – he knows his stuff.”

VeloVeritas wishes Mark every success in his forthcoming events and we’ll be down at Stockton for the Nationals to keep an eye on him.