Le Tour, it’s so big that we tend to forget that there’s a lot more to cycling than Froomey breaking a spoke and Louis Meintjes, Simon Yates and Rigoberto Uran getting towed around France.
Races like the Under 23 European Track Championships in Sangalhos-Anadia in Portugal where Scotland’s Mark Stewart grabbed not one but two titles – the individual pursuit and omnium.
We last spoke to Mark after the Track Worlds, back in the spring – a series which perhaps didn’t go as well as he’d have liked.
But the Euros could hardly have gone better.
We kicked off by asking about his pursuit win, in the course of which he achieved the fastest ever times by a Scottish rider; two very rapid 4:18 rides, prior to which the best was 4:20 by Graeme Obree back in 1993 on the Hamar track in Norway during his winning series at The Worlds.
“Yes, I was surprised I returned those times because I’ve not actually done much on the track recently.
“I rode 4:18:9 in the qualifying with the fastest two qualifiers going into the final where I rode 4:18:8 to win, beating the local guy Ivo Oliveira.”
[Oliveira is a burgeoning talent who rides for the highly respected American Axeon Hagens Berman development team, managed by Axel Merckx, ed.]
“I was pleased with my consistency; I was riding 15.8 laps in qualifying then in the final I rode a 15.3 second lap before settling in to 15.8/15.9 laps.
“I haven’t done a lot of track work during the summer; since The Worlds I think I’ve ridden my track bike three times, most seriously at the UCI GP of Poland at the start of the month then some work here before the Champs started.”
And you were on a UKIS ‘Super Bike’ – what are they like?
“Awesome! They’re very simple but very stiff and effective.
“But you still need a good head and good legs to get the best from one.”
And you beat the Dane Niklas Larsen to win the omnium; no timed races in there?
“No, ironically the pursuit would have been good for me now but the flying lap and kilometre were never my best disciplines. It’s four bunched events all on the one day now, I won the scratch, was third in the tempo race and then won the elimination.
“For the final event, the points I had a 10 point buffer so just stuck on a big gear and rode defensively, covering the moves.
“It was actually quite a negative points race with everyone riding to defend their placings so no one would commit.”
And you were fourth in the madison, was that with Ollie Woods?
“No, with Matt Walls, he was in the team which won the U23 team pursuit; it wasn’t a bad ride but our positioning let us down.”
Perhaps a daft question but with you being so versatile how do you choose which events to ride?
“I just like riding my bike!
“It was between Ollie Wood and I for the omnium but he broke his wrist and as for the pursuit, I just said to Heiko Salzwedel, our coach; ‘I’ll ride it!’”
AN Post must be pretty supportive of your ambitions on the velodrome?
“Really supportive, they understand my passion for the track.
“I’ve got a good few road days under my belt; I was ninth in the GP Criquielion in May and then in June I rode stage races in France; the Boucles de la Marne – Mathieu Van Der Poel won that, he was so strong – and the Ronde de l’Oise.
“All that road work has given me a good core of strength but more importantly I feel fit and I’m enjoying it – I have a happy head on!”
“I have the Tour of Alsace then In August I’ll either be riding with my AN Post team in Belgium but it would be good to ride the Tour de l’Avenir with GB again.
“And after that a wee bit time off would be nice, I’ve been training at a high intensity for so long now.
“As for the track I’m not sure when my next outing on the boards will be?”
The 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia must be on your mind?
“Yes, it’s part of the thought process; a 4:18 would have won gold in Glasgow [Australia’s world record holder (4:10:534) the now retired Jack Bobridge, took gold in Glasgow with 4:19:211, whilst his compatriot Jordan Kerby won the 2017 Worlds with 4:17:068, ed.]
“The thing with the Commonwealth Games is that there’s no omnium, the endurance events are: pursuit, points and scratch so those events are a massive target for me for the Gold Coast next year.
“The Worlds are in March then The Games are one month later in April.”
Can Scotland field a competitive team pursuit squad in The Games?
“There’s certainly talent there, Angus Claxton, John Archibald and Joe Nally (Nally was in the GB junior squad which won silver in the team pursuit at the Euros, ed.) but the difficulty is pulling everyone together to organise the training.”
The ‘vibe’ you’re giving off just now is so much more positive than when we spoke after The Worlds.
“I was deflated after The Worlds but after it I changed my training, mixed it up more, keeping it simple but hard – and of course all that hard racing in France with AN Post has helped.
“I’m in a good place mentally right now.
“Sometimes, if you’ve been racing too much or the training load has been too heavy you go into a competition with the mindset of ‘getting through it. That’s never good.
“I went into the Euros fresh, chomping at the bit.”
And that attitude certainly paid dividends for young Mr. Stewart; we’ll be keeping an eye on him as the second half of the season progresses.