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DUNDEE winning the Champions League? Almost certainly an unattainable pipe dream in football but an aspiration that could become a cycling reality this weekend.

The UCI Track Champions League is the competition and the Dundonian in question is Mark Stewart who heads into Friday and tomorrow’s double-header finale at London’s Lee Valley VeloPark lying in fourth place in the men’s endurance event.

This is just the second season of a tournament designed to make cycling more fan-friendly and it clearly appeals to Stewart, too. The former British Cycling rider tends to appear more on the road than the track these days but an invitation to compete in this month-long event held in four European locations was too good to turn down, especially with partner Emma Cumming, a New Zealand cyclist, also taking part.

Having surpassed even his own expectations by claiming the first stage in Mallorca – winning the scratch race and finishing third in the elimination – Stewart would quite like to win the whole thing. This will be his and Emma’s final weekend in Europe before heading back to New Zealand to enjoy a second summer Down Under and the 27 year-old is keen to add a trophy and a big cheque to his luggage if possible.

“I hadn’t touched a track bike since the Commonwealth Games in July so thought I would just ease my way into the series,” he reveals. “And then you go to the first one and win and you’re wondering, ‘where do I go from here?’.

“Since then I’ve had a sore couple of runs but that’s more down to tactics than anything else. I’ve actually felt better as the rounds have gone on but people have followed me and it’s been harder to race my style. That’s just part of racing.

“Now I need to find a way to get around that this weekend as I want to win it. Initially I wanted to win it because there’s decent prize money on offer [roughly £21,000]. There’s a romantic notion when you’re 18 that you’re doing it for the love of the sport but when you’re 27 you’ve got to pay the rent!

“But as I’ve become immersed in the league and seen the response from audiences both online and in person, I actually now think it would be really cool just to have the accolade of winning the Champions League.”

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The quick-fire turnaround with each round taking place just a week apart has been a refreshing change for Stewart and he hopes the Champions League is now here to stay in the calendar.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect ahead of it all,” he adds. “I spoke to a couple of the guys who did it last year and they were pretty positive, although people tend to say good things don’t they?

“But it’s actually been really good fun and I’m enjoying it. It helps that the people organising it – whether that’s the UCI or Discovery or whoever else – are running it really well. The communication is really effective and they just seem to have the right people in the right places. It’s been a really enjoyable thing to be a part of it. And having Emma here too has been the best thing about it as we don’t get that chance too often.

“Throughout the season we’re both racing so you leave the apartment and go your separate ways so it’s been really nice going to do a race together and coming home together like a team. That’s quite a privilege.

“We just flew in [yesterday] from our home in Girona and because the racing is so late on Friday and Saturday you’ve effectively got 24 hours from when you land to when you race.

“The hardest part of the Champions League is you don’t get home until the Sunday. And we’re at that point in the season where you’re usually working towards next year from a road perspective. So Monday to Thursday is back the day job, back to the grind! It’s knackering.”

This time will be different, though, with the pair flying straight back to New Zealand from London.

“We’ve got a Black Spoke camp in Auckland but that’s not why I’m going back. Emma’s going back to race so it just makes sense to head over too and enjoy a few months of the summer.

“The team are still finalising the race calendar as we’re stepping up to pro level next year so at the end of January I’ll be back racing either in Asia or in Europe. So I’ll have six-day weeks for a while and then straight back into the racing.”


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