The thing about being on a World Tour or Pro Conti professional team is that your fate doesn’t hang on just one ride. But it seems that it does with British Cycling. Mark Stewart, had a strong winter 2019/20 World Cup campaign;
Winning the Points Race in Minsk ahead of double 2020 Worlds medallist Seb Mora of Spain, second in the Omnium in Glasgow to 2020 World Champion Benjamin Thomas of France, despite not knowing he was riding until just hours before the race…
Third in the Madison in Hong Kong with Fred Wright to winners, reigning 2019 World Champions, Roger Kluge and Theo Reinhardt of German who finished third in the 2020 Worlds and Campbell Stewart of New Zealand who paired with Aaron Gate to take silver in the 2020 Worlds behind the ‘Danish Dynamite’ of Michael Mørkøv and Lasse Norman Hansen.
But despite those rides Stewart has been axed from the GB team on the strength of an admittedly below par 12th place ride in the World Points Race Championship in Berlin.
We caught up with him recently at his temporary home in Cambridge, New Zealand, where he flew after the Worlds to meet up with Kiwi girlfriend, former World Junior Team Sprint Champion Emma Cumming, to hear his side of the story.
You ‘got outta Dodge’ just in time, Mark?
“I did well to go when I did, within a few weeks Europe was all ‘locked down.’”
What’s Cambridge like?
“Cambridge is on the North Island, around an hour from the coast, it has a population of about 20,000.
“It’s near Lake Karapiro, it’s home for the national cycling team – track, road, mountain biking and BMX – the ‘Avantidrome’ velodrome is here but the national rowing, triathlon, kayaking and canoeing teams are all based here too, so it’s a ‘sporty’ town.”
And you’re ‘locked down’ there too?
“The conditions of ‘lock down’ here have been pretty strict albeit they’re talking about easing things back a little, tomorrow.
“They put a lid on things here early and I think that perhaps the public have more respect for what the authorities say than they do back in the UK; you don’t hear of people flaunting the regulations.”
How was your departure from the squad handled by BC?
“If you’re on the squad then you’re subject to a review every three months, if your performance isn’t up to par then you’re given until the next three monthly review to get back up to where management wants you to be.
“But what happened in December was that whilst there were no real weak links, all seven of the endurance squad, including Ed Clancy, were ‘put on notice’ so that at the end of that period they could drop any of the squad they chose to.
“There’s no doubt I had a bad day at the Worlds but was still surprised to be dropped.”
But your World Cup campaign was solid?
“I won the points race in Minsk and was fifth in the madison; was second to Thomas in the Glasgow omnium despite only getting the call to ride the night before and was third in the Hong Kong madison with Fred Wright.”
But what about that Worlds points race?
“I’ve obviously thought a lot about that race, I really wanted to win but I simply had a shocker of a day – my place on the squad hinged on that one race it seems.”
But it hasn’t broken your heart to be out of the squad?
“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.”
With Tokyo postponed until 2021 is it possible you could be reinstated?
“I don’t know.
“I’ve put in all the work and I have the fitness but with the new UCI regulations the HUUB track team – which was Ribble Weldtite’s sister track squad – can no longer ride the World Cups…
“I can ride UCI Class 1 track events – and I have to opportunity to race internationally on the track with the Scotland team.”
The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 must be in your thoughts?
“That’s never far from my thoughts and the programme suits me: points, scratch, individual and team pursuits.
“I think Scotland has potentially a great endurance squad for The Games with Jonny Wale, Kyle Gordon, Joe Nally, John Archibald and Alfie George.
“I’ll be keeping in close touch with Scottish team management for sure.”
What about those Six Days, I’d love to be your ‘runner’ at Ghent?
“I’m in a position now where if Christophe Sercu, the Race Director calls me and asks would I like to ride in the Six Days of Gent I can say, ‘yes.’
“And I know Peter Schep who’s the Race Director at Rotterdam, so that avenue is open to me again.
“It was 2017 when I was with the AN Post team that I last did the Six Days; I had 80 race days that year and loved it.
“The BC coaches aren’t keen on the Six Days because you’re not riding the big gears that everyone now rides in international competition but the thing is that if you ride three Sixes over the winters than that’s 18 days where you’re riding two madisons each day – 36 opportunities to improve your race craft.
“If all you do is train then sure your power gets better and your fitness improves but what about your tactical sense?”
And you’ll have road opportunities again now, I remember you were top 10 in the 173 kilometre GP Claude Criquielion with AN Post?
“The trouble just now is that it’s impossible to plan but when things do get back to something approaching normal then I’ll have my opportunities with the Ribble Weldtite team.
“With everything being so unpredictable I’m not going to put pressure on myself about results, I’m just going to enjoy my racing.”
You’re training over there, what sort of work are you doing?
“For the first week I just rode my bike as I felt like, if it was one hour then that was fine, or maybe it would be five hours and that was fine too.
“Right now I’m doing 20 hours each week on the bike and three sessions in the gym, my motivation is really strong.”
To close, what about those numbers Mark?
“My weight is down to 67 kilos and my 10 minute power is 450 watts.”
Sounds pretty damn good to VeloVeritas; we look forward to seeing Mark back in action again soon on road and track.