Abertay Elite Athlete wins Scottish Junior Road Race Championships
One of our Elite Athletes – Mark Stewart – recently won the Scottish Junior Road Race Championships, which took place in Fife.
He’ll be competing in the Junior Men’s National Road Race Championships in Cumbria this Sunday (June 9).
Local to Dundee, 17 year old Mark rides for Scotland as part of the Junior (Under 18) Development Squad.
He has just completed his first year here at Abertay, where he’s studying for his BSc (Hons) in Sport & Psychology .
We caught up with him to find out a bit more about him, how his training’s been going so far this season, and what his hopes are for the future.
So, Mark, How long have you been cycling for and how did you get involved in the sport?
This is just the second year I’ve been road cycling, but I’ve competed in running, triathlon and track cycling since I was seven.
I got into the sport because my Dad coached and captained the Scottish Ironman team and used to take me out on the bike after nursery, so I was bred into it really. My mum is a keen runner and a food nutritionist too, so I’m pretty lucky to have them.
Although I’ve done lots of sport throughout my life, my focus is solely on road and track endurance cycling now.
How long have you been representing Scotland?
This is my second year on the Junior (Under 18) Development Squad.
What kind of events do you do, and which do you like best?
A lot of road races, circuit races and endurance track races (points, scratch, pursuit).
I like any race where I can be proactive and attack loads, so my favourites would have to be the points races on the track.
How often do you train? And how often do you train with the Scotland squad?
I train five to six days a week. When the season gets under way, some weeks it’s less than that because I’m racing that often that you have to have time off to recover and rest.
Throughout the winter we had Scotland camps every month in Dumfries and a two week training camp in Spain run by Alan Denman, my coach. These camps were focused a lot on rider and personal development with Matt Green (a professional rider), giving great advice as to what it takes to make it in the world of cycling.
You’re studying Sport & Psychology here at Abertay – can you use what you're learning to help with your performance on the track?
Yes! A lot of the stuff I’ve learnt on this course is very relatable to my sport, so it’s great to keep learning new things that you never even thought would affect you.
And what was it that made you decide to come and study Sport & Psychology at Abertay in particular?
There were quite a few reasons really. Abertay is one of a very select few universities who offer the Sport & Psychology course – the only one in Scotland in fact – and there’s a great Elite Athlete Programme here. Alison Bell, who runs it, has done an amazing job and is really catering for every athlete’s needs – from physio, to fitness testing, to a gym programme – they really do a great job.
Ultimately though, Sport and Psychology together just seemed to be the right course for me – I find it amazing to see just what the body can do when the mind is willing!
So, what kind of training is it that you do? Is it a lot of work in the gym, or mostly out on your bike?
Throughout the winter I did a lot of core work, but mainly I’m out on the road bike and at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. This is the first time people in Scotland have had such a facility to train on during the winter, and I believe it has been played a very influential role in my winter training.
Before the Velodrome was built, we trained a lot indoors on turbo trainers, which gets really boring, so the Velodrome’s been a breath of fresh air.
During this past winter, there was weekly racing there on a Wednesday, and at Track League there were sometimes 120 people racing every week – from age 10 to 60 plus.
Anyone is welcome to ride the Velodrome – there are accreditation sessions every week, and it’s definitely something everyone should try at least once!
Is there an indoor and outdoor season in cycling, like there is with athletics?
For road racing, it’s always outdoors, and with track racing you can race indoors or outdoors, but most of the major events are held indoors in the Manchester Velodrome at the National Cycling Centre, which is indoors.
The season starts in March and finishes quite late in September, so we get the best of all weathers in our season. We raced in a snow blizzard this March in a road race in Dumfries – one of my team mates was pulled out with hypothermia, but he was back racing the next weekend. They make us tough in Scotland.
What are the events you're training for at the moment?
After the Road Champs I’ll hopefully spend a good few hours in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome preparing for the next event.
I’m also hoping to go over to Belgium to race during the summer – there are races all the time there, so you just do as many as you can get to really.
With so much training to do, how do you manage to balance things with your studies and also having a life in and around all that?
I’m still learning how to fit studying and training around each other. For me, it’s all about time management and sacrifices. You just have to decide what you want to do in life.
There isn't a lot of time to have a "life" as people say, but being a cyclist is your "life" – the early nights and staying in at the weekend, all the travelling and the hard training, is something every cyclist has to deal with. So I don't see it as I’m missing out on anything – I see it as just something you have to do if you want to try to be the best.
And what are your future cycling ambitions? It's the Commonwealth Games next year - is that something that's on the cards?
For sure the Commonwealth Games are definitely always in my mind. I’m hoping to qualify to ride the track endurance events for Scotland. It would be amazing to go to them, especially being in Scotland and still being so young! My Brother went to Delhi in 2010 at 19 years old so hopefully I can match him. He rode for Scotland in the kierin on the track, and also rode for Great Britain at the Junior Track World Championships. At the age of 21 he’s now the head coach at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, so that's pretty handy for me.
The Junior Track World Championships are taking place in Glasgow in August, but I’m not sure if I’ll be competing yet, as you have to get selected and I’m not part of Team GB yet – I’m going to have to go pretty fast to get selected at this stage!
I’d definitely like to get on the podium at the British Road or Track Champs this year, and to win a Scottish senior championship title as well.
I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it wasn’t for Team ASL360 and Starley Bikes who are supporting me this year though, so I’m hugely grateful to them, and to Spokes Cycles in Dundee who have put up with me for a few years now and support me heavily.
We wish Mark the best of luck for Sunday’s race, and for the rest of the season. We’ll try and keep track of all his wins and let you know how he gets on.
Here are his results for this season so far:
Tour Series Support Race – Kirkcaldy
Spring Track Meeting – points and elimination
British University Track Cycling Championships – points and elimination
Scottish Junior Road Race Championships
Isle of Man Youth & Junior Tour (Part of the British Junior Road Race Series)
For more information about the sports courses available at Abertay, please visit http://www.abertay.ac.uk/courses/ug/spex/Back to News