Features Interviews

Mason Hollyman interview: on the rise

The talented 20-year-old climber looks back on his career, talks 2020 and discusses his move to the Israel Cycling Academy

Mason Hollyman will join the Israel Development Academy development team next year with his sights set on a future WorldTour contract. If all goes to plan, the move will give the 20-year-old the opportunity to guest with the WorldTour team in pro races next season, a significant step towards making his pro dreams a reality.

Hopefully there will be a good mix of a few pro races combined with some of the biggest under-23 races

One of our under-23 riders to watch this year, he has already shown a lot of promise. He is a climber by trade, a talent that was already apparent during his junior days. He won a stage of the Giro di Basilicata in his first junior season. The following year, 2018, he was third overall at the junior Tour of the Basque Country (won by Ineos Grenadiers’ neo-pro Carlos Rodriguez), fourth overall at the Junior Tour of Wales and won the Junior National Road Series to boot.

Last year, he quickly adjusted to the step by to the under-23 ranks. His early-season results included 16th at the Trofeo PIVA (1.2U) and 12th GP Palio del Recioto (1.2U). He then claimed 20th overall in the Baby Giro (and 7th in the race’s youth classification), a fine way to start his under-23 stage racing career. This year was disrupted but, despite disappointment at Baby Giro, he still came away with a ninth overall at the Tour of Bulgaria (2.2), as well as breaking the British Everesting record in June (since bettered).

We caught up with the Rayner Foundation-supported rider as he embarks on the next step in his career.

Mason (left) with Holdsworth-Zappi teammate Tom Cornwall during his Everesting attempt this year. Photo: James Little

Tell us about how you got into cycling. Can you remember the moment you were first ‘hooked’?

I’d say I got into cycling on the weekends when I was about six or seven with my family. My Dad has always been a keen cyclist, so he got me and my brother into it. At that point, I also played football, so it was more something that I fitted around football. It didn’t take me long to realise I preferred cycling though. It was from about the age of eight that I realised cycling was something I wanted to focus on. As I got older, I always used to love going to France to places like the Alps and the Massif Central region to ride my bike in the summer.

What were your highlights racing as a junior?

It was in my junior years that I began to take cycling more seriously and started to get some good results. One of my highlights was stage two of the Junior Tour of Mendips as a first-year junior in 2017. As a youth, I would have been lucky to roll a top 15 or 20 in a national race, so to finish second on the queen stage was a real turning point.

Later on that year I won a stage of the Giro di Basilicata, a UCI stage race in Italy [Ed: won by Mark Donovan], after breaking away solo close to the finish. This was super special as I had gone into the race with few expectations. I definitely didn’t think I would be coming away with a stage win.

Mason after winning stage of the Giro di Basilicata in 2017

The next year, a major highlight was coming third on GC at the Driedaagse Axel Juniors. It is such a prestigious race and the result came on a parcours I didn’t think suited me too well. What’s more, I’d crashed hard on the first lap on the final stage, losing my bike in a field. I thought I’d never see the front of the race again but after a long time chasing, I managed to catch the peloton then bridge solo to the break to finish second on the stage.

Winning the Monmouthshire Junior Grand Prix – on one of my favourite courses I’ve ever raced – and the Junior National Road Series overall was also a highlight. The Junior Tour of the Basque Country that year was also special. It was one of my favourite junior races on some mega parcours. From stage two to stage five, I finished third, second, second and then fourth, resulting in third overall. Finally, riding the world championships in Innsbruck, although not the result I wanted, was a super special experience and I really loved the opportunity to represent my country. 

2018 UCI World Cycling Championships. Great Britain junior men’s team riders Sam Watson and Mason Hollyman at the start in Kufstein. Photo: Bruce Rollinson / SWPix.com

You decided to stay in the Zappi family when you stepped up to the U23s. Why was that? Did you have offers elsewhere?

Yes, I had some other offers but I decided to stay at Zappi. Flavio was keen to get me on board coming out of the junior set-up. I applied to two teams and got offers from them both but I chose Zappi because I liked the look of the team along with the great calendar that came with it. I also knew that with Zappi I would have more chance to get my own opportunity in races. Whereas in another, slightly more well-known, team I may have played more of a domestique role in my first year.

How would you describe life as a rider on the Holdsworth-Zappi?

I enjoyed my time spent with Zappi. I felt the junior team was well set up, with added help from parents here and there. In the under-23 team, we all lived in one big house for the season, taking turns to cook and wash up after meals. We had a strict routine in which we’d wake up, go for a morning walk, eat breakfast and then get ready to go out on the bike. After our training, we would have a shower, get changed then eat our salad before having a short nap. After cleaning our bikes (if they needed doing), we’d then chill out before dinner. This was a set regime which we all had to adhere to, but it worked well and kept us focused. Flavio is very passionate about cycling and, for me, it was a great place to learn and begin my development in the under-23s.

How do you reflect on 2019, your first year as an under-23? Any particular highlights or disappointments?

I feel like 2019 went reasonably well for me. Obviously, there were races I went into with expectations that I didn’t achieve, but there were also races in which I felt I did a lot better than I expected. I really enjoyed the Baby Giro where I finished 20th on GC along with 14th on one of the queen stages. I did have slightly higher hopes going into this race but coming out of it, I wasn’t too disappointed as I realised the level at this race was super high and I was a first-year at the time.

Mason (right), riding with the Israel Cycling Academy. Photo: Noa Arnon

This has been a strange year for just about everyone. How have you found things on and off the bike?

Yes, it’s been a really strange year on and off the bike. Off the bike, I don’t really feel like I’ve done much this year due to the restrictions and the lack of places you can actually go but I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my family. 

I travelled home from Italy in March and stayed at home until the start of July. This period at home, during lockdown, was good for riding because after a month or so we were able to meet up with some mates to cycle and the weather had warmed up a little by that point too.

I then travelled out to Girona for a few days before going up to Andorra with the Israel Start-Up Nation WorldTour team. This was a really great opportunity to see how a top tier team like Israel Start-Up Nation is set up, what kind of training is done at altitude and how much detail the team goes into with this.

I like to just get out on the bike and come home pretty fried whether that be a good hit out with mates or solo

How have you kept yourself motivated?

I’m quite lucky in the sense I enjoy training, especially when the weather’s half decent and the legs are good. I like to just get out on the bike and come home pretty fried whether that be a good hit out with mates or solo. I was also reasonably confident that we would have at least some races to aim for in 2020 so I guess I just aimed for those.

Why did you decide to go for the Everesting record?

The main reason was just down to a local friend asking as a bit of a joke in a group chat if anyone fancied going for the Everesting record on one of the more iconic climbs in our area, Holme Moss. I thought ‘why not’ and took him up on it. Other than that, it was just nice to get a bit of a race feeling again, albeit against the clock.

Photo: James Little

Describe what it was like doing that challenge?

It was tough! The first few hours ticked through nicely, you’re fresh and going up the climb at a nice pace, putting time into the target time. Then before you know it the reps and time sneak up on you and the once-fluid reps feel more of a struggle every time.

Once I got to five or so reps from the halfway mark I realised how mentally tough the challenge was going to be

I think it was about 34 times I had to go up the Moss to reach the required elevation. Once I got to five or so reps from the halfway mark I realised how mentally tough the challenge was going to be; getting over that halfway mark was one of the hardest parts. But the hardest part had to be aiming for the final ten reps. Once I got through that it was more about just riding my line. Finishing it in a pretty decent time was a good feeling. I was hugely grateful to everyone that came to support me and to James Little for the mega photos and video.

Despite lockdown, you’ve managed to fit in quite a bit of road racing this season. How would you say the races that you did went?

Yes, Holdsworth-Zappi did super well to get us all the races they did, which I was thankful for. I think it’s fair to say though that on a personal note my season was a big disappointment. The Baby Giro was a big goal but I crashed on stage one and a puncture after that then left me chasing for half of the stage. Crashing again – hard – on stage two pretty much ended any chances I had of a result. It then took me a fair while to get over that crash, with some rest needed before any other races. This just left me with Lombardia. I’d found my form again just a week or so out but, unfortunately for me, the race didn’t go to plan.

Crashing in the Baby Giro must have been a big disappointment?

Coming into the season I had set the Giro as my main goal of the season. It was the biggest race on our calendar and I felt I had a lot of improvements to make from my performance in 2019. This stayed as my focus throughout lockdown as we knew that it would be a race they would try super hard to make happen in Italy.

I trained well going into the season and during the lockdown, confident that I had gone up a level from the year before. After a good block at altitude, I left direct to Bulgaria to race with the team. I used this race to sharpen up again, trying to help teammates at certain points. The form was good and I finished top ten on GC. After this, it was full steam ahead to the Giro.

Three days before the race, though, I woke up ill. It wasn’t Covid thankfully but I was not in a fit state to do much at all. This forced me to take three days off before. Obviously, this wasn’t ideal but I put it behind me as I hoped to recover during the first few stages as they were not particularly difficult. Unfortunately, due to the crashes and, in particular, the crash in the wet on a fast descent on stage two, I think is fair to say any hopes of a good GC result for me were wrecked. After this, it was just a case of getting round the race.

Photo: Noa Arnon

You’re moving to a new team next year. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Yes, after three years with Zappi, including the one I had as a junior, next season seemed a good time for me to move on in order to continue my development. I will be moving onto the Israel Cycling Academy’s development team to WorldTour set up.

How did the move come about?

I had some contact with the team during lockdown and was later invited out to Girona to meet a few of the guys before being driven up to join the WorldTour team on one of their altitude camps in Andorra for two weeks. It was nice to see how they worked and I really liked the set-up and feel of the team. And I guess I didn’t get on their nerves too much!

Hopefully there will be a good mix of a few pro races combined with some of the biggest under-23 races

What kind of race programme can you expect to be doing?

I’m not sure how much I can share about my programme yet for next season. But hopefully there will be a good mix of a few pro races combined with some of the biggest under-23 races the calendar has to offer.

What would a successful 2021 look like for you?

I guess a successful season would be podiuming at a UCI stage race and winning either a stage or one-day race.

Your coach Dean Downing says you can put out the power of a WorldTour rider (or something similar). Does this mean we might be seeing you on the WorldTour at some future stage?

I’ve worked with Dean Downing for the past three seasons improving well year-on-year. I feel this year we made really good improvements, getting the numbers in a good place. To move up, I first need to learn to use the power at the right times. Then, who knows?!