Scotland’s Mark Stewart has won the first UCI categorised stage race of 2022, taking the yellow jersey at the New Zealand Cycle Classic after he and his Bolton Equities Black Spoke teammates dominated the five days of racing around Wellington and the North Island.
The Black Spoke team took control of the race by winning the opening team time trial by 22 seconds, before Stewart won stage four on the steep Te Wharau Hill finish and teammate Regan Gough won the final circuit stage around the capital.
George Bennett was part of a New Zealand national team that also included Shane Archbold but the UAE Team Emirates rider used the race as an early test of his winter form before working towards an early season peak at the UAE Tour where he will support Tadej Pogacar. Bennett tried to animate the race and finished fourth overall at 56 seconds.
Stewart told local media that he had travelled to New Zealand for a month in 2020 to see his partner Emma Cumming but ended up staying as the COVID-19 pandemic developed. Stewart won a gold medal in the points race at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but then was dropped from the Great Britain programme. He had stopped racing but found new focus after seeing the 2021 New Zealand Cycle Classic.
“I came for a month, believe it or not,” Stewart said according to Stuff.
“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 secured a place with the Black Spoke Continental team for 2022 and hopes to race in Europe later in the season.
“What’s the date today? The ninth? It’s been nine days, so it’s a good start to the new job,” he joked.
“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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