When last we spoke to Mark Stewart, back in April, he’d just been cut adrift from the GB track squad on the strength of an admittedly below par ride in the World Points Race Championship, despite an excellent series of World Cup results over the winter:
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.
On the one hand he was happy to be away from the train, train, train philosophy of the GB squad – not the best for a man who loves to race his bike.
But it’s never nice to, ‘get the heave’ and it wasn’t hard to detect the sadness in his voice.
The other day, when we rang 2020 New Zealand Omnium Champion, Mark Stewart we were back to speaking to ‘our Mark of old’, full of enthusiasm for life and his sport.
It was great to hear.
Mark Stewart and New Zealand seem to have embraced each other?
”Yes, I think so – but the cycling scene is so different here compared to British Cycling.
“The head sprint coach had a barbecue for the riders and staff at his home – that just wouldn’t happen with GB.”
[And we should mention that Mark does a bit of babysitting for the New Zealand cycling team doctor – it’s also hard to see that happening in Manchester.]
Congratulations on being New Zealand Omnium Champion, how did that come to pass?
“I’m not really sure!
“I think the coaches were keen to ‘spice up’ the competition, it was a part of ‘The Cambridge Three Day’ of national championships.
“I won a silver medal in the Madison too, riding with the US rider, Adrian Hegyvary; Aaron Gate and Campbell Stewart won that.”
You beat a couple of tasty dudes to win the Omnium.
“Aaron Gate was second, he was World Omnium Champion in 2013 and Campbell Stewart who was third was World Omnium Champion in 2019; Corbin Strong was fourth and he’s reigning World Points Race Champion – so yes, good guys.
“Aaron is going very well, he rode a 4:09 Pursuit in training the other day.”
Was the Omnium held in the Worlds format with no timed events?
“Yes, four bunched events – Scratch, which I won; Tempo where I was second; Elimination where I was third and finally Points which I won too.”
I believe the final result was all down to the very last sprint in the Points Race?
“That’s right, Aaron and I were neck and neck with the lead passing back and forth between us during the race – it was all down to who was first across the line at the end of the Points Race.”
Had you done much racing prior to the track nationals?
“I’ve raced practically every weekend since the lock down ended.
“I rode the Tour of the Southland in November, that’s the biggest race and most famous event in New Zealand held over a prologue and seven stages, it’s a bit like the Ràs in Ireland, very aggressive racing with not a lot of control – Aaron won that one.
“But it’s different here, the weekend before the nationals the coaches organised training races on the velodrome and put their hands in their own pockets to put up prize money.
“The coaches here care much more about the individual rider than just the process and results.”
Your state of mind sounds good, more like your old self.
“Definitely, much more relaxed, not just a bike rider caught up in a system.
“Someone said to me before the points race in the omnium; ‘are you nervous?’
“I replied; ‘no, if I win that’ll be great but if I don’t it’s not a problem for me.’”
Is there a thought in your head to, ‘do a Jordan Kerby’ the Aussie lad who was rejected by the Australian Federation but could ride for New Zealand due to his mum being a Kiwi and has been very successful in the all black skinsuit.
“The truth is that they don’t need me – they have so many keen, talented young riders coming through.
“And besides I’m highly motivated to ride the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 with the Scotland squad.
“The fact that the Olympics have been postponed a for a year could be a benefit to Scotland at the Commonwealth Games; with the big federations – in particular England – there’s a bit of a ‘lull’ the year after the Olympics.
“I keep in regular touch with Scottish Cycling so they know I’m doing.”
When are you coming back to Bonnie Scotland?
“I’ll be back in March or April to ride a full road season with Ribble, the programme is looking good with races like the Tour of Normandy pencilled in.”
And with nine months to reflect, what are your thoughts on the BC decision to cut you adrift?
“I’ve tried to see it from both sides, I know I didn’t perform in the Worlds Points Race but I think that they could have put more into me.
“If that was here in New Zealand they’d be asking why I didn’t perform, not just getting rid of me.
“But here they care more about the individual rather than just the results.”
“It’s hard to say after this season, I never thought that it’s hi-lite would be winning the New Zealand Omnium title!
“The main thing is to go into the season physically and mentally ready.”
VeloVeritas believes that the man will indeed be ‘ready’ and look forward to seeing him back on the European boards next winter.