The last time we spoke to 22 year-old Scotsman Mark Stewart he’d just ridden a cracking U23 Road Worlds in Bergen – cue total contrast from big blue skies, solitude, fjords and fresh air to The Kuipke with light about as artificial as you can get, wall to wall people, scary steep boards and the smell of burgers frying … and Jupiler pils.
The Gent Six Day, not for the faint-hearted but as a previous winner of the U23 version and a veteran of the 2016 Brad~Cav ‘love in’ the man from Dundee is at home on the boards where Kenny De Ketele pretends he’s Iljo Keisse.
Mark’s partner for the six nights of Europop and autograph requests was Worlds U23 road race fourth placed man and GB team mate, Ollie Woods.
The interview was conducted in the authentic but cramped surroundings of his trackside cabin at the Kuipke.
We kicked off by asking Mark how he was finding Gent 2017 compared to last year?
“Last year would be hard to live up to with it being ‘the Brad and Cav show’ but on a personal level I feel a lot more at home, you find the rhythm and learn how to ride a Six Day.
“It’s just a pity Ollie crashed on night two – he hasn’t been on his best game since.”
How was the London Six?
“London was OK but it’s a small programme, three/four races per night albeit the races were hard on 52 x 15 restricted maximum gearing.
“The mixed contract money/prize money format could be improved though – it’s either a ‘put-on’ show or a race – but if it’s a ‘real’ race like a World Cup then it can be very negative and that’s not best for the paying public.”
How’s your acceptance with the other teams?
“Yeah, OK, we know many of the guys from the World Cups – like the French guys Kneisky and Thomas, we know them well, I’ve been racing with them for years.”
What have been the highlights of the season been for you?
“Winning The European U23 individual pursuit and omnium championships, obviously!
“But helping Chris Lawless to his stage win in the Tour de L’Avenir and Ollie to his fourth place in the Worlds in Bergen were pretty special too.”
You had a good programme this year.
“Yes but I also understood myself better than I did in 2016 when I trained too much, too hard – it took me until the Tour of Britain to find some form, last year.
“This year I rode the Tour de L’Avenir, Tour of Britain, Tour of Alsace, Ronde de L’Oise, Paris-Arras Tour, Tour of Normandie, Boucles de la Mayenne and Etoile des Besseges – so yes, a lot of good racing there.”
But no more AN Post for 2018.
“We knew in July August that AN Post were out and Kurt Bogaerts and Sean Kelly were trying hard to find a new sponsor so it wasn’t a last minute surprise.
“Kurt does so much for the sport and I hope he and Sean will be back with a team for 2019.”
About this time, Mark had to get up on the boards to do his bit in another ‘race to nowhere.’
Duly changed by soigneur Martyn, Fanta glugged, wine gums chosen and mobile phone checked, we picked up the thread…
What’s 2018 about for you?
“It’s all about the track; the Worlds and The Commonwealth Games then a lot of gym work to build my core for the track after the Games.
“I only want to ride the road if I’m going well.”
What are you looking to ride at The Worlds?
“The omnium and team pursuit – I’d love to ride the individual pursuit too but I don’t know if I’ll have enough time to prepare for it.”
What will you be riding on the Gold Coast?
“Points, scratch and individual pursuit – and probably the road race and time trial because I’ll be out there anyway.”
But no Scottish team pursuit squad?
“No, there’s not really enough time to organise anything; in an ideal world we’d have four Scottish guys on BC programmes at Manchester – that would be so much easier to get thing together.”
Two big race series to peak for in the space of a few weeks – tricky to manage…
“Well, I hope to hold my form from The Worlds through to The Games; having a bit of down time after Apeldoorn in the Netherlands – where The Worlds are, February 28th to March 4th – then travel out to the training camp for the Gold Coast and the Games, April 4th to 15th.”
What’s the programme like between now and The Worlds?
“Next up is the Canadian round of the World Cup in Milton, Ontario December 1st to 3rd where I’ll be riding the points and Madison, with Ollie. (Mark took silver in the points and bronze in the Madison with Woods, in Canada, ed.)
“Ollie will ride the omnium there; they’re giving the different contenders for the event the chance to show at the different World Cups.
“Then we have UCI track events to slot in between the New Year and The Worlds.
“December is about a lot of gym work too – I want to build strength then January we have Mallorca and a British pre-Worlds camp before Apeldoorn and the Gold Coast.
“After The Worlds and Games it’s about becoming a better, stronger athlete – I’ve had massive help from my British Cycling coaches on how I should go about that.
“I want to build core and muscle mass.”
Another race loomed and it was time for us to leave Mark and Ollie in peace and head for the stands – or maybe it was for another pils?
That core and muscle mass is for Tokyo where Mark wants to be in 2020 for the Olympic Games.
We’ve watched him advance from Scottish to British to European champion – we look forward with anticipation to Apeldoorn, the Gold Coast and … Tokyo.