A THIRD Commonwealth Games campaign finds Mark Stewart in philosophical mood. It is an event that delivered the raw rush of wide-eyed, teenage adrenaline at Glasgow 2014 and then the high of the gold medal claimed on the track at Gold Coast four years later.

The 26 year-old enters his third Games no longer part of the British Cycling set-up and having spent most of lockdown living in New Zealand with fiancee Emma Cumming, herself a professional cyclist.

Having returned to Europe at the end of March to race on the road for Bolton Equities Black Spoke – the only non-Kiwi on the team – his preparations have been interrupted by a number of crashes that, he admits, have taken their toll both physically and mentally.

The Dundonian will race both on the road and in the London velodrome at the Games, hoping to deliver success for Scotland, either by returning to the podium himself or by helping one of his team-mates to do so. Whether he does so or not, however, will not  change him as a person.

“I went to Glasgow at 18 years old and everything was a new experience,” he recalls. “It was phenomenal. And then I went to Gold Coast and won. So it’s hard now to look at Birmingham and see how it can get better than that!

“I’ve got some experience now that I can share with the younger ones and it’s all about helping the team. That’s the beauty of it. To get one guy on to the podium might take six of us.

“I won on Gold Coast but it didn’t change much. My family still loves me and my friends still like me. You do it for yourself and the medal is almost a by-product of all the hard work that you put in.

“But it doesn’t change your values or who you are as a person. Those are the things that are more important to me. You can win a medal and there are so many things involved like luck, socio-economic factors, where you grew up, genetics, things that are mostly out of your control. You can have a couple of crashes. What you can control is how you respond to all that. Are you still a nice person and have time for people? That’s way more important to me.”

Stewart and Cumming will remain in Europe for the rest of the year but beyond that any future plans are up in the air, the Scot happy just to enjoy himself and play it by ear.

“Emma and I are in a similar position in our lives,” he says. “We’re in our mid-20s and wondering where cycling is going for us as we’re not exactly making millions from it. How many years do you give it before you consider a different career path? But we both still love it and still have a lot of ambition.

“So we thought we would move to Europe for the rest of this year. We might go back to New Zealand after that but we’ve no firm plans.

“Road racing is the job, that’s what pays the bills. And it’s also what suits me best. I spent years with British Cycling and it’s quite a restrictive programme. You have to live in Manchester, work with a certain coach, turn up every day etc and they exert quite a control over your life.

“But with road racing there’s more of a freedom to it. You can live anywhere you want as long as you’re close to an international airport. And as long as you’re in form and going well you’re left alone to do your own thing.

“As you get older you work out what environments work for you, and this works for me. It puts me in my happy space.

“Black Spoke is a really good team to be a part of. Culture is a buzzword that gets thrown about a lot but it’s almost inbred into the Kiwis and their hard-working nature. There are no prima donnas, everyone just mucks in and gets on with it. If you were a complainer on this team you’d be an outlier. Whereas on British and European teams there’s a tendency to be more negative about things.”

Stewart got in tow with a videographer, Karl Drury, during his time in New Zealand and is now chronicling his cycling journey on YouTube.

“Before I left to go overseas Karl suggested that if he were to give us a couple of cameras and he was to edit it all would I be up for documenting my journey? And I was up for that.

“It’s relatively easy as Karl does all the hard work! But I’m really enjoying it and we’ve had a lot of nice feedback.

“I’ve had a bit of a rough time on the bike recently so I’m hoping my fortunes have changed. But I’m still excited to go and race. I know that all being well I’m still going be pretty damn competitive.”