In recent years, there has been a discernible blurring of boundaries between the various cycling disciplines, as young riders feel increasingly empowered to pursue goals across formats. Contrary to the assumption that to mix and match may dilute or distract, the development of a broader skillset is proving to be beneficial and even advantageous to riders racing multi disciplines.
In a series of interviews with young British riders, I aim to find out just what it is about combining disciplines that is so appealing, and how the synthesis of skills between them can enhance a rider’s credentials as well as offering additional dimensions to their lives as cyclists.
First up, 21-year-old Scot Cameron Mason, a cyclocross specialist who has also shown flashes of excellence on the road. Following a good showing in the 2020 Cyclocross World Championships at under-23 level, he is currently in the form of his life. His road season concluded with a top 30 finish in a hard-fought National Road Championships road race. Without a pause, he then threw himself into the cyclocross season. His achievements so far this season include ninth in the elite World Cup at Overijse, sixth place at the under-23 European Cyclocross Championships and an impressive third at the Tabor World Cup under-23 race, in addition to a hard-fought second place at the under-23 Koppenbergcross.
I spoke to the TRINITY Racing rider to ask him about his goals in ‘cross, and his plans for diversifying in future years.
Where are you in the world now?
I’m in the team house which is near Brussels. This is where I’ve stayed for the last two, three years while in Belgium, so my first year with Tom [Pidcock] and then last year too.
So that feels like home for you now, are you settled there?
Yeah, it’s a second home. It’s not the nicest place in the world to live really, Belgium in winter, flat Flanders, but I’m not here for the training, I’m here for the racing.
So how do you split your time, do you come home in the summer?
I’m here for the racing so this year that’s October through till the end of January and then I get to spend all summer at home, or travelling.
What Tom and van der Poel and these guys can do is basically go 100% in all of them and I don’t think that’s possible for everyone
What are your goals for next year, are you heading onto the road, are you going to do some mountain biking?
I’m not sure yet, but I want to do all of it, it’s just how much attention I put to each one. I think there’s a pretty good opportunity for me to show myself in under-23 mountain bike but then I also think that there’s loads of things I can do on the road so I’m in quite a good position.
It’s just managing all that. What Tom [Pidcock] and van der Poel and these guys can do is basically go 100% in all of them and I don’t think that’s possible for everyone, so for me, it’s working out how to manage all the training and the racing and the travel.
Presumably, your team or coach will help you work through where your priorities are and what your main goals are going to be?
It’s mainly from me. I don’t have a big fancy manager or management. Like, the way that I’ve done my career is just taking the opportunities where they are. For example, I get the opportunity to go and train with Specialized Factory mountain bike team in December in Girona which will set me up quite well for next year in mountain biking. I think when we get to January I probably need to start planning a proper calendar out, but people know what I want to do, so when I get around to putting down dates things will be ready.
Do you see yourself aiming towards Olympic mountain biking?
Probably not in the next Olympic cycle unless I absolutely do something crazy in mountain biking. Growing up, because I was mainly just a cycling fan it wasn’t quite connected to the Olympics and definitely for mountain biking and road cycling the Olympics isn’t actually that important really, as a young bike rider.
I don’t know, it’s different for everyone, like I know Evie Richards quite well and always for her growing up the Olympics was the absolute dream. But then also if I was in a position that the Olympics was just there it would change things a lot; I would see the significance, but I need to fill in quite a few more steps before I get to that.
Looking ahead at the cyclocross season, will you be heading to the USA for Worlds?
Yeah, I hope so. There’s still a selection to happen obviously, but Worlds is the main goal of the season. I’ve never been to the USA and from what I’ve seen they’ve got the scope to make quite a good course. It’s my last year at under-23 so I think I’ve got a final point to prove there and then see what’s next.
The course in Fayetteville looked interesting…
Yeah, it looks spectacular but I don’t know how it would be to ride. They taped it way too wide which doesn’t make for good racing, but I think that’s why they had this World Cup so hopefully those bits of feedback will get to the race organisers. That’s the thing, when you make something purpose-built and you don’t have natural things to work around, you can end up making it a bit sterile or making it look good for the camera, but to actually race I wonder how good it will be? But I’m sure it will be a cool event.
The purpose-built ones are quite interesting, like for example Worlds in Dübendorf was just silly because they had all this space, they were just given an airport and when you get given a flat field with no features there’s only so much you can do with it, you just have too much space to work with so they just put things really far away, big long straights and all this, so it wasn’t very good. Whereas if you have a hillside or you’re just given one field like the Koppenberg you make it work. But it’s good, like in the season there’s a massive range of courses, new and old, so for the actual races and I think also for the viewer it’s good to see every week, and it’s another aspect to the sport that every race might suit someone a little bit different.
What’s your preference for parcours?
More ‘mountain bikey’. I’d say muddy but not too muddy because when it gets super muddy you need a real big engine, big power, and I’m not so great at running, so if it’s muddy but rideable and technical that’s good for me. But also a classic National Trophy course is good fun, apart from I find in the UK those courses are often in parks and if they get super muddy it gets dead slick. I haven’t raced a national trophy in what feels like forever, but I hope to race one in December. That would be a nice thing to come back over for.
Tell me about how you got into cycling yourself. Did ‘cross come first?
So, my cousin from Reading got into mountain biking through school, and when he was 14 or 15 he started racing the national mountain bike series. He’s a good five years older than me, so we went along to one of the national mountain bike series in Scotland and I did a little support race on my tiny little bike and was like ‘this is really good’. We started to make a weekend of it every time so we’d camp the Saturday night somewhere and then my Dad would race the fun race, I would race the under-10s or under-8s – I was super young – and my brother would race the under-14s. Because at the time there was a really good Scottish cross-country series like maybe seven or eight rounds through the summer and then other races as well. I think it must have been a couple of years after that we then started doing the Scottish cross season and that was basically the same thing, almost every weekend in the winter, just racing, and then I picked up the road maybe in like under-12 and did all the crits, so yeah – just all the racing!
Where do you see your career headed – do you see a natural transition where one discipline will drop away, or will you try to continue in all of them?
It depends. At the moment being at TRINITY means I can do everything, but if I was to go with a mountain bike team some of the doors would close, same with going to a pure ‘cross team like Pauwels Sauzen, some things would be harder to do, and then the same with road.
For me, at the moment, a team that can do all disciplines is perfect. My stand-out discipline is probably cyclocross from a results point of view, but if the other disciplines were to reach that level, then I’m in a position that I can really do whatever I want. But naturally as I leave under-23 I’ll probably move towards where I can see a more long-term future.
Over the last few years as I’ve been so serious with the ‘cross racing, seeing a real long-term future in cyclocross is maybe a little bit less possible for me, I think. Because I’ve been so lucky to race at this elite level for – still like it’s only been a couple of years – but the progression isn’t massive in cyclocross, like I race all the biggest races anyway, and I’ve got great support from my team so the progression isn’t as big as it is with mountain bike.
Mountain biking is just a humungous sport and so worldwide and multi-faceted and then road is just a whole other different beast and a huge progression so it definitely will interest me in the next few years, the idea of being able to learn loads, travel loads, have all these new experiences…
What’s great about the cyclocross is that I’m at the pointy end and I can feel a real sense of achievement from that point of view, but that’s not the only reason why I ride my bike
What’s great about the cyclocross is that I’m at the pointy end and I can feel a real sense of achievement from that point of view, but that’s not the only reason why I ride my bike; it’s the sense of achievement from learning new things, new experiences and stuff, and what I’ve done this year with a bit of gravel and a bit of road has showed me that doing new stuff is really exciting.
So having that range keeps you interested and engaged. Is there a sense with ‘cross that you might soon have achieved everything you want to achieve or gotten everything out of it that you want to, potentially?
I think there’s still quite a lot to do in ‘cross, and bedding down into becoming that seasoned ‘cross professional would be pretty cool, but if there was an opportunity to do all of it over again with road and mountain bike then that would be really cool. But then also there has to be a baseline level of being good at it to deserve all those opportunities so that comes with it too; you have to have a certain level of talent.
You had a good showing at Nationals…
At Nationals I had no baseline, no nothing, I didn’t know what to expect and I was literally just riding it as a survival thing; like at every point where it came back together I was like ‘eat, drink, sit in, don’t do anything, just save energy’, and I look back on it and I’m like ‘damn I should have attacked then’ because everyone else was probably fucked so I should have tried to animate. I only know that now because I’ve done it once so it means next year when I get into that position hopefully I can.
Before this year I’d done two road races in my life
That was your first Nationals?
Yeah. I think before this year I’d done two road races in my life, like on the road, not crits. I did Ryedale [Grand Prix] and Beaumont [Trophy] and then Nationals. Yeah the things I learned from that… like I did Ryedale and got a proper scare, I was like, ‘oh I’m not very good at this’ and it’s quite nerve-wracking being in the wheels and very scary descents. That was my first proper race back after my injury and there was a lot going on. The comedown from that was that there’s so much to learn so then I went into Beaumont with a lot more to think about and that worked quite well and then on into Nationals.
Then a thing that will really help me for ‘cross and something that I want to explore more next year is stage racing; I think that could really add to me as a bike rider – learning how to look after myself day after day, not just racing it as a ‘boom, three, four hours, done, go home’, but like that cumulative effort which I get a little bit of in cross when it’s really busy but road racing is just the hardest discipline by far, it’s so hard.
It’s about your recovery too, and having to go and do it all again. You can sit back in the peloton but you still have to be switched on all the time.
Yeah, I haven’t really been to a race where I’ve had that easy bit, in Ryedale I think a break went and it was a bit easy but at that point my heart rate was still through the roof and I was like ‘oh my god’, holding onto the bars tight and not relaxed at all so I was probably wasting loads of energy.
My coach and mentor James McCallum has been racing for like, 20-30 years and all those little things he tells me about; there’s just so much to absorb from people like him because it can have such a massive impact on the race, like you can get round on the worst legs in the world if you’re dead switched on and you know where to be and when to be. I don’t really know any of that yet but when I do then hopefully…
It’s a steep learning curve…
It wasn’t obvious at Nationals, that you hadn’t done much road racing.
Yeah I think when I woke up I realised that it was going to be proper raining, I felt like I was already winning a little bit, because I didn’t mind that. I was a bit worried about the first lap, because everyone was just telling me it’s all about positioning, it will be like a sprint finish into the bottom of Michaelgate and once I knew it was wet and we were rolling out and everyone left a little bit more space and they weren’t absolutely bombing into corners, I was like ‘good, it’s just going to be about the climb’, not about getting caught behind a crash. So, I think that was better but then it turned out to be super-attritional because of the weather and because of the climb every lap so it was literally every single lap, re-group, find out where you are, push on a little bit and then go again. I think maybe a European version of that type of race, maybe over some hilly terrain, would suit me.
TRINITY seems a good place to be for a multi-discipline rider with proven success for Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner. How does it work there, and how do they support you?
So when I joined the team, end of 2019, it was mainly just a cyclocross set-up built around Tom and during that cross season I realised what they were telling me about their plans to be this kind of road development team for the management and for the WorldTour. At the time I had absolutely no eyes on road and I was like ‘yeah that could be cool.’
That obviously led into the year of 2020 where we had what felt like two race days so there ended up not being a huge amount of opportunities for me. There was the Baby Giro which you can imagine, when you’ve got a team of 15 great under-23 riders a mountain bike rider or ‘cross rider probably doesn’t come too far up the list in getting into a selection. It would have been cool to do, but maybe next year.
There are some new riders from different nations coming onto the team next year and I think that’s going to be pretty exciting for the team
But yeah, being in a team with so many different types of riders is amazing. Like, the first ‘cross season with Tom, that was my first time having a real kind of teammate, and the amount that you can learn from someone like him is amazing. And now I’m teammates with Chris Blevins, Haley Batten and all these people from different walks of life which I think is really cool and that’s kind of what TRINITY does. I know there are some new riders from different nations coming onto the team next year and I think that’s going to be pretty exciting for the team.
So where do you do your training, is that mainly on the roads?
Yeah like 80-90% of my training is on the road. Once a week we train on the cyclocross bikes, but in the season we don’t really do much training, it’s more just recovering from the racing and then topping up and looking after yourself ready for another one. So the training is a little bit hard to manage because you never really feel very good in training but hopefully you feel good in the racing. It’s not the most enjoyable but when it works for the racing it’s good.
Do you get out much on the mountain bike?
Not in the ‘cross season. I’m actually going home next week for a few days so I’ll hopefully go for a little mountain bike ride then. I miss the hills and I miss the trails when I’m in Belgium, and I wasn’t actually able to go home last year because I would have had to quarantine for weeks.
Cyclocross is quite Euro-centric, on the whole…
Yeah and that’s what I like about mountain biking, it’s truly worldwide and you have great riders from all countries like New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, all of Europe, there’s a good rider from all countries which is cool, which you don’t get in cyclocross.
I haven’t done a proper cross country mountain bike race yet but I’m quite keen to do a marathon stage race next year, and something like Cape Epic is like a bucket list thing for my career
Within mountain biking, which discipline are you most drawn to?
I’m not big and strong enough for downhill, I think I would just break myself. So cross country and cross country marathon as well is a pretty cool discipline, like basically a flat-out cross country race but for like three or four hours so it’s savage. I haven’t done a proper cross country mountain bike race yet but I’m quite keen to do a marathon stage race next year, and something like Cape Epic is like a bucket list thing for my career, definitely.
What’s the dream, in terms of long-term goals?
I think to do world championships in every discipline would be cool and I think I’m heading in that direction. Cape Epic’s definitely up there to do. I’m not very good at doing 5-10 year plans, but more like fun challenges, like I’d like to race an Enduro World Series race, which is something I’ve not done before but it would be really cool. It’s really quite technical downhilling but it’s over a full day and it’s timed stages. The EWS scene is massive, it’s totally worldwide like in mountain bike, so to do one of them would be cool.
You didn’t try out the track route?
No! I did a few track British Cycling sessions when I was on a Go-Ride club but I never really got the appeal of driving to a car park, going into a leisure centre and riding around some wood, like, in my head if you were really good at it and you were really competitive it would be awesome, but I wasn’t really that competitive growing up. Probably to look after my own head I couldn’t be, because I wasn’t very good! So if I was really competitive I would just be like really sad and down all the time because I wasn’t winning bike races. I think it’s like nature/nurture, you know, the competitive ones were able to be competitive.
I’ve had teammates in the past who, no matter what the result, it’s never been good enough and I’ve found them quite hard to be around because they could never accept what was just there
You have to have mental strength to go with the drive to compete.
Some people are so competitive at all levels which is amazing and I think obviously all racers have that competitiveness but to be a real winner you do need to be quite competitive. I’ve had teammates in the past who, no matter what the result, it’s never been good enough and I’ve found them quite hard to be around because they could never accept what was just there. I don’t know how long-term you could do that.
Thanks to Cameron for his time – if you have enjoyed this insight, look out for future interviews in this off-season series.
Featured photo: David Preyler