Mark Stewart – “I realise AN Post is ‘the real deal'”
The last time we spoke to Mark Stewart, Scotland’s top endurance track rider, he’d just added to his growing medal collection at the European Championships with bronze in the team pursuit and silver in the scratch.
Some nice road results in the Ronde van Oost Vlaanderen followed where he made his breakthrough from riding as a domestique and/or ‘getting round’ to being a serious contender for stage and overall honours.
But it wasn’t long before he would be back on the boards – he is a trackman, after all.
He missed the 2016 London Six Day where he rode so well last year to win the individual ‘1878’ competition which preceded the main event, then paired with Germain Burton to ride strongly in the actual Six (‘Five’ just doesn’t sound right.)
Incidentally, we’ve lost the talented Burton to the sport, the pressures of full time GB team living and racing proving just too much for him.
Because this season the ‘Madison Sports Group’ which promotes the event want the same ‘National’ teams to ride all of their Six Days – London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen plus a one day ‘finale’ in Mallorca in the spring, Mark couldn’t get a ride.
He’s unable to comply with riding all four races in the series due to his national team commitments; so whilst the boards were humming in London he was slogging out four and five hour ‘endurance’ road rides in preparation for the UCI track World Cups.
The Glasgow World Cup saw the Stewart medal collection swell again; teaming up with pursuiter Andy Tennant, former kilometre rider Kian Emadi and Stewart’s regular madison partner Ollie Wood in beating European champions France (Thomas Benjamin, Sylvain Chavanel, Corentin Ermenault and Adrien Garel) in the final in a quick time of 3:58.891 to France’s 4:00.230 for gold.
Mark also lined up for the points race, here he takes up the story;
"We were pleased with our team pursuit times in Glasgow, we did 3:58 twice with 3:58.1 in qualifying; remember that in the Commonwealth Games the Aussies won with 3:57.9 and Wiggins, Clancy & Co. did a 3:59 for silver – so happy with that.
"I rode the points race too but in a 30 minute effort like that it tells that you’ve only been training for the four minute effort of the team pursuit.
"Four of us took a lap and I was in second position ‘til the end when my doors blew off so I just missed a medal.
"I rode the madison too, with Ollie Wood and we finished eighth behind the Spaniards with our endurance the problem again; we were happy enough though, it was a big improvement on the Euros where were 13th."
The very next weekend saw the second World Cup of the season in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands where the Stewart/Woods pairing continued to improve;
"We took bronze in the madison behind Belgium's Robbe Ghys and Kenny De Ketele and the Italian pair Francesco Lamon and Simone Consonni so again, we were happy with the ride – and we were out on the road in the mornings there, too.
"Ollie and I are gelling well, we’re similar riders and it’s coming together for us nicely.
I rode the points race but it was a strange one with no laps gained and it just didn’t go my way."
Next on the agenda was the Gent Six Day, without doubt the toughest of the surviving Six Days.
"The madisons may not be over 100 kilometres any more but the non-stop programme, tight, technical track and constant dog fights between the Belgians make it as close as there is to a proper ‘old school’ Six Day.
"I enjoyed the experience, the atmosphere is terrific and you’re up there with Cav and Wiggins - but went in tired, it was my third week on the bounce of flights and hotels and the first night just didn’t go to plan with us losing three laps.
"Rod Ellingworth had a word with us, told us to keep calm and chose our moments to go for laps a bit better – so that eased the pressure on us.
"Cam Meyer was recording data on his bike and he told me we were racing 100 kilometres each night – and that’s until 2:00 am then you’re not getting to sleep until 3:00 or 4:00 am, it’s physically very demanding.
"Iljo Keisse told me there was one morning he didn’t get to sleep until about 6:00 am.
"The mental side is taxing; it’s not like racing on a big 250 metre track, it’s only 166 metres and you can’t relax for a single second – by the third night we were knackered!"
But Gent was Mark’s last outing on the boards for a least a wee while before the build-up to the World Track Championships in Hong Kong, April 12th to 16th 2017.
"I’ll be doing a ‘power block’ with lots of gym work in December and then in January I have an AN Post get-together in Calpe and I'm riding some of the races at the Challenge Vuelta Mallorca too.
"The next World Cups are Cali, Columbia in February, the 17th to 19th, then Los Angeles 25th to 26th ... but it’s still early to be talking about them.
"The Worlds are in April so I’d hope to do some road events with AN Post before I start the Worlds build up.
"I’m aiming for selection for the team pursuit and madison with Ollie at the Worlds.
"But the new ‘all bunched race’ formula in the omnium suits me – but it suits Ollie and Chris Latham too!"
After Hong Kong Mark will be able to concentrate fully on the road with AN Post.
"The more I see of and speak to Kurt Bogaerts (manager) and Niko Eeckhout (ex-Belgian Elite Road race champion, beating Boonen and Gilbert to the title and team coach aka ‘Rambo’, ed.) at AN Post the more I realise that the team is the ‘real deal.
"The programme they have is the best possible at that level – the Sean Kelly and Niko connections mean that they get into just about any race they want, UCI regulations permitting.
"I’ll be based in the team house in Merchtem which is right in the cycling Heartland of Flemish Brabant – I’m looking forward to it!"
We wish Mark a good season - it’s going to be very busy 2017 for him.