FOR someone seemingly not in charge of his own destiny, things have turned out not too badly for Mark Stewart.

Based in New Zealand for the last 10 months – where the coronavirus is already a thing of the past – the Commonwealth Games gold medallist is making the most of the hand that life has dealt him.

Dropped by British Cycling at the start of last year, the 25 year-old is forging his own path and showing that you don’t have to operate within “the system” to continue to progress.

It was the chance to be with girlfriend Emma Cumming – an established Kiwi cyclist – that took him to the other side of the world, with Stewart making the most of his new settings to become New Zealand’s omnium champion last year.

Like most people, the Dundonian’s plans for 2021 remain very much up in the air with uncertainty over whether his team, Ribble, will be able to compete in Europe this spring.

But if the former world champion has to stay put for the foreseeable future then he admits it wouldn’t be the worst outcome either.

“I guess I’ve been lucky in that a lot of recent decisions have been made for me,” he admits. “I got dropped by British Cycling so I didn’t have to make that decision. And given what’s happened since then that might be the best thing to ever happen to me.

“I came out here really just to visit Emma so that was the driver behind that. And then we got put into lockdown and my flight got cancelled so that was another thing that was out of my hands!

“But it’s been nice not having to make any of these decisions. Things have just happened naturally. And I feel really lucky that I’ve landed here as the past 10 months have been great.

“The culture is very welcoming. Doing favours is almost like a currency. People just want to help you. Being so settled here is great but it does make the decisions over the next few years a lot tougher.

“I had wanted to come back in March or April and kick off a big British and European road season. But it’s now looking like there might not be much on.

“It really depends on what happens with the vaccine. I’d love to get back racing again but I’m on a good thing here so I’d have to give it a lot of thought before I left New Zealand.

“Bike riding has been my life since I was a kid. But I’m 25 now and it’s got to a point where I have choices to make. And if I choose bike riding, I might be sacrificing other things like personal development or education or another career path.

“In the past I’ve enjoyed a few good results and moments of real brilliance in cycling where I’ve thought, “I could really make something of this”. It would be a lot easier if I was just a bit rubbish!

"So there’s a lot to think about. Plus it’s sunny here 90 percent of the time which does wonders for your mental state.”

Stewart has already competed in one event this year, the five-day New Zealand Cycle Classic.

Watching footage of the riders winding their way through the streets of the capital Wellington in front of throngs of non-masked spectators almost feels like a throwback rather than a snapshot of a country that has conquered corona.

“Personally it wasn’t the best race but it was what I expected from myself,” he added. “It’s quite a big race in New Zealand and I didn’t want to say no to the chance of racing as you don’t know how the year is going to turn out.

“Having crowds and the rest is just normal for us now. The only time you’re reminded of Covid now is when you have to fly and they ask you to wear a mask.

“It was only when I spoke to my parents before Christmas that I realised how much Scotland and the UK is still dealing with it all. It’s definitely been handled a lot better here.”

If the Tokyo Olympics remains an outside shot for Stewart for a number of reasons, then he has his sights on next year’s Commonwealth Games, playfully adding that he wants to qualify for a few more before he retires.

“My goal is to appear at seven Commonwealth Games,” he adds, deadly serious. “I reckon I could still be cycling when I’m 42. I did my first when I was 18 and, if I got selected next year, that would be my third aged 26.

“So I reckon I could do another four after that. I love the Commy Games. It’s like a fun and friendlier version of the Olympics. So Birmingham next year is definitely in my thoughts.”