When we saw Mark Stewart’s recent post on social media that he’d moved on from the Ribble Weldtite team – who he’s been with for three seasons – and joined his ‘local’ New Zealand continental team Black Spoke Racing, it reminded us that it had been a while since last we spoke to the Scotland’s reigning Commonwealth Games Points Race Champion who’s been based on the other side of the world these last two years.
We soon rectified that and here’s what he had to say to us from his base in New Zealand.
Black Spoke Racing?
“To be honest, I would have been happy to stay with Ribble Weldtite but I got a call out of the blue from Black Spoke offering me a ride.
“The programme is good, European based, a full season of Belgian pro kermises, UCI 1.1 and 1.2 races, plus races like the Tour of Norway.
“The team has a house over there, run by Franky Van Haesebroucke, who’s an ex-pro and very well connected, so we have a good programme.
“That’s what’s important to me; getting the race days, the opportunities… I’m no longer a youngster at 26 years-of-age and I need results.
“And the equipment is top notch too, Pinarello Princes.”
You had some nice results in the New Zealand National Championships.
“I came away with five medals; I won the Omnium, was second to George Bennett in the Road Race, then I was silver medallist in the Madison, Individual Pursuit and the Points Race.
“For a limited race programme I was pretty happy with that.”
After The Nationals your palmarès ‘dried up’ though?
“I could have gone to Europe but the race situation was uncertain and it would have used up a lot of my finances, I didn’t want to be racing in Europe and living on Pot Noodles!
“I made a conscious decision to work through 2021, accumulate some financial reserves then really ‘go for it’ in 2022 – I decided to play the ‘long game.’
“I was working 40/50 hours each week as a lifeguard team leader, all through the year.
“I’m now in a position where I can train here all through the European winter and be in the best possible shape for season 2022.”
How long have you been in New Zealand and what’s the position with work permits and such like for you?
“I’ve been here 20 months now and actually, Covid did it’s bit for me – the country thrives on tourism but with the travel situation there weren’t people coming in to fill positions, I got a two year work visa within a week.
“Right now I have five different jobs on the go – I work at the swimming pool, I do some charity work, I coach, I baby sit and now I have my position with Black Spoke.”
Kiwi and Mark Stewart seem to have embraced each other, is a change of nationality something you’ve thought about?
“Absolutely, I feel almost like a New Zealander; I train with them and I couldn’t have been made more welcome by the cycling community here.”
Who’s coaching you now?
“I’m self coaching now, over the years I’ve worked with a lot of top coaches; Chris Newton, Keith Lambert, Iain Dyer, Simon Cope and the late Heiko Salzwedel, so I have a massive log of systems, programmes and methods.
“With all of that behind me I now know what works for me and I frame my own schedules.”
The Commonwealth Games, Birmingham 2022 are looming – have you been keeping in touch with Scottish Cycling?
“Oh yes, and I’m well aware of the qualification standards – a 4:17 pursuit, top three in a UCI bunch race and I hope that I may be able to qualify for the road team too.
“I’m in regular contact with Evan Oliphant and with modern technology they can see how my training is going via my Training Peaks data.
“It’s funny, when I was down at Manchester with British Cycling, Scottish Cycling seemed a long way away – but here I am 10,000 miles away and keeping in closer touch than ever with them.”
Do you see your future on the track or on the road?
“Definitely on the road. As time as gone by I feel my physiology has become more and more suited to the road – in the New Zealand Road Championships over 174km I felt that I could have happily handled another lap.”
When will see you back in Bonnie Scotland?
“That’s the first thing on my ‘To Do’ list when I get back to Europe, and my girlfriend Emma Cumming will be with me.
“Emma races too, on the track she’s been World Junior Champion and a Commonwealth Games medallist.
“But after our trip to Scotland we’ll be heading for Girona in Catalonia where we’ll both be based for the season.”
Season 2022 is about?
“Winning some races!
“When I was with AN Post in 2017 I raced a lot of road events, the Etoile de Besseges, the Tour de Normandie, Boucles de la Mayenne…
“And whilst I had some decent results, like top 10 in the GP Criquielion I think I lacked that bit of viciousness that gets you a result; I could make the front group but lacked that final couple of percent.
“But for 2022 I’m committing my life fully to getting results the road.”
Is it true to say then that BC letting you go was a blessing in disguise?
“To be fair to British Cycling, they said to me when that decision was made that I may well go on to excel out with their programme, it’s not for everyone.
“I don’t think I fitted into a centralised programme – I enjoy the freedom I have here and also the fact that I’m not being judged all the time.
“I can honestly say that since I came here I’ve never felt that ‘I can’t be bothered training’, despite working as much as I have been and doing the work on the bike as well.
“And the reason for that is; I just love riding my bike!”
VeloVeritas wishes Mark every success with Black Spoke Racing and will be keeping an eye on his results.