Monday, May 27, 2024

Mark Stewart – “I’ve always liked to take risks, do my own things”


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It takes a special occasion to drag us Auld Fifers up to Monifieth on a cold Thursday evening.

On the face of it, a mid-week ‘10’ may not seem a big deal – but this one was special for us; 2022 Commonwealth Games selection and defending Points Race Champion, Mark Stewart was making a rare appearance on home roads.

These days – when he’s not hurtling around the boards – he’s more likely to be spotted on the roads of New Zealand, France or even Greece.

One of the nice things about writing about cycling is that you share journeys – the trials, tribulations and successes of young men who, despite your obligation to be ‘impartial’ as a journalist, you can’t help but establish a strong connection with.

Dan Fleeman was one such rider, Michael Mørkøv another. 

Then there’s Mark Stewart, from just up the road in Dundee, a place with a special, egalitarian cycling culture where egos aren’t allowed and all are made to feel welcome.

Mark first appeared in our pages in October 2014 having won the British Points Race Championship and ridden strongly in the Commonwealth Games track events in Glasgow – back then we did tip that he’d be one to watch for on the Gold Coast Games boards in 2018.

We got that right.

Mark Stewart
Photo©Gary Main

His next appearance on VeloVeritas was in January of 2015 after his first World Cup success, bronze in the Team Pursuit at the Cali World Cup.

The bandwagon rolled on with solid road results – World Cup successes in the Scratch, Team Pursuit, Points, Omnium and Madison – double u23 European Championship successes – Six Day victories – a Worlds medal in the Points Race – a brilliant gold, beating Points Race legend Cam Meyer in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

And then, despite a very strong winter 19/20 World Cup campaign on the boards, on the basis of an untypically off colour performance in the 2020 Worlds Points Race, he was unceremoniously dumped from the GB programme.

It would have cracked some, but not Mark. When we put it to him that it perhaps hadn’t broken his heart to be out of the squad, he told us;

“It wasn’t working, I’m a rider who likes to race a lot but I was racing less and less whilst becoming great at training.

“My numbers were my best ever; I have world class 10 minute power, I’m the best I’ve ever been physically … but I need competition, I like to race.

“I used to love when I rode the Six Days over the winter. When you race you hone tactical and positioning abilities.

“When you race less there’s a tendency to over-think your next competition instead of just jumping on your bike and getting on with the racing.

“If I was still on the squad I’d be looking forward to another year of training camps but now I can get out and race.”

And with that he headed off to New Zealand to be with girlfriend and fellow world class rider, Emma Cumming.  

The next thing we knew, he was New Zealand Omnium Champion and second to World Tour rider, George Bennett in the New Zealand Road Race Championship.

It’s hard to keep a good Dundee man down…

This year the success has continued, riding for New Zealand continental team, Bolton Equities Black Spoke Pro Cycling he started the year by winning the five stage UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic in early January.

With TTT, individual and GC wins in that event it meant he was rated #1 rider in the UCI world rankings, much to the delight of Scottish ‘podcaster,’ our friend and much missed, the late Richard Moore

Back in Blighty for early April Mark won the British Madison Championship with Will Perret and took silver in the Omnium Championships.

Mark Stewart put himself at the top of the world rankings early season. Photo©Oceania Cycling Confederation

Mid-April saw him ride the tough UCI 2.2 five stage Tour du Loire et Cher in France where he took third in the King of the Mountains competition.

Greece was the venue by the end of that month and there was third on GC for him – despite damaged ribs in a Stage Three crash – in the UCI 2.1 five stage Tour of Hellas with team mate Aaron Gate running out overall winner.

And that brings us up to Thursday night and the Monifieth 10 mile Time Trial.

Mark’s was the winning ride with 20:10, some 15 seconds shy of the 19:55 course record but on a cold, blowy night which felt most unlike June. 

Mark Stewart
Mark Stewart was the top ranked rider in the world at the early part of the year. PhotoEd Hood

What’s with the ‘10’ sir?

“I’m road testing my Pinarello Time Trial bike in anticipation of the Stage Three 11.8 K Time Trial in the five stage UCI 2.Pro Baloise Tour of Belgium which starts on Wednesday.

Chilly Monifieth tonight but you’re actually Catalonia based these days – Girona?

“Yes, my girlfriend Emma and I are based there – but she’s off racing in the USA at Trexlertown track, Pennsylvania right now.”   

Bolton Equities Black Pro Spoke Cycling? – tell us about the team. 

“It’s a New Zealand continental team funded by Murray Bolton who’s a noted businessman and entrepreneur in New Zealand – and obviously a cycling enthusiast. 

Scott Guyton is the manager, he rode pro in Europe with Flanders and Linda McCartney; our DS is Franky Haesebroucke, he rode pro too, with the likes of Collstrop and Navigators.

“Franky is old school and likes us to be lean, that’s why I count my calories these days!

[He looks the skinniest we’ve ever seen him, that’s for sure, ed.]

“In an early season race in New Zealand they saw me overcome a string of mechanicals to make the front group and were impressed with my spirit – even though I eventually blew up horribly – and offered me the ride.

Mark Stewart
Mark Stewart prepares to meet the timekeeper in a rare appearance on Scottish roads. Photo©Ed Hood

The team hasn’t had a bad start to the season?

“We’ve had 11 UCI wins in 2022 with the overall in three stage races – I won the New Zealand Tour, Aaron won in Greece and James Fouche recently won the Tour de l’Oise in France.” 

No regrets about being away from British Cycling then?

“None, I’ve always liked to take risks, do my own thing things and not be overly regimented in my training structure as things are with BC…

“If I want to do an eight hour training run then why not?”  

What comes between The Tour of Belgium and The Games for you?

“I’ll be riding the British Time Trial and Road Race Championships after that, the Time Trial is Thursday 23rd June over 44.2 K at Crichton Estate in Dumfries so tonight and the Tour of Belgium Time Trial will make sure the bike is well sorted for then.

And of course there’s the Games TT, which I hope to ride but that will be down to has the best form between John Archibald, Finn Crockett and me. 

“The British road race is on Sunday 26th over 201 K at Castle Douglas over four big loops then eight smaller ones. 

“I’ll be spending time on the track after that, even though I won the Madison with Will that was a bit of an experiment to see if I could go straight from the road to the track and be sharp – but it showed I’ll have to sharpen up on the track before the Games, I can’t just go straight from the road to the track.

“I’ll be defending my Points Race title on the track and riding the Scratch Race too – no Pursuit though.” 

Mark Stewart
No looking back for Mark Stewart after parting ways with the BC programme. Photo©Ed Hood

There was no need to ask him if he’s familiar with the Lee Valley Velodrome having him seen him burn it up during the London Six Day a year or two ago.

And no need either to ask about his goals for The Games, we can guess those – we wish him well with them.  

With thanks to Mark for his time and to his mum, Caroline and dad, Stan who spoiled VeloVeritas by treating us to dinner after the race – we’re not used to this kind of treatment.