Two years after finding himself stranded in New Zealand by the Covid-19 pandemic, Scotland's Mark Stewart has won his first UCI-ranked stage race.
Stewart, who now races for Bolton Equities Black Spoke team, won the New Zealand Cycle Classic overall after he triumphed in the hilliest stage of the race.
Speaking to Stuff.NZ, Stewart revealed that he had come to New Zealand originally to visit his partner, track cyclist Emma Cumming, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced him to stay in the Antipodes.
"I came for a month, believe it or not," Stewart said. "I came with a rucksack for a month and then Covid hit, British Cycling dropped me, so I thought I’d stay another few, and that ended up being two years.
"A year ago I raced this race … I wasn’t in race condition but it was one of my favourite races, the parcours are amazing. To race around the capital, what an experience, so I thought I’d love to come back next year and just respect this race, and try and win it. And it doesn’t often go to plan."
Stewart's team dominated, winning three of the five stages, and holding the leader's jersey throughout the race.
They won stage one's team time trial by 22 seconds, before Stewart won on the steep Te Wharau Hill finish on the fourth day, and teammate Regan Gough won the final circuit stage around the capital Wellington.
Stewart was only one of only five non-New Zealanders to finish the race. The field included WorldTour pro George Bennett, who raced for the New Zealand team rather than UAE-Team Emirates, coming in fourth.
The 26-year old previously raced on the road for An Post Chain Reaction and Ribble in the British and Irish domestic scenes, but has now signed up with Bolton Equities Black Spoke.
He has won medals on the track, including gold in the points race at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but was subsequently dropped from the GB cycling programme.
With the new Black Spoke outfit contract, Stewart is looking to bring more results in for the team this season.
"What’s the date today? The ninth? It’s been nine days, so it’s a good start to the new job eh," he said.
"It’s scary isn’t it? If this is how we’ve started the year, we’ve set ourselves the standard. But that’s exactly why they’ve brought guys like me and Regan in.
"We’ve come to do the business, we’re here to ride hard and train hard, and we’re here to do it in an honest and integral way, and hopefully the results will come."
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