Cameron Mason is hoping for a final peak of winter form and another impressive result at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor. A medal or top five would confirm the 23-year-old Scot as a fully-fledged Belgian-based professional cross rider.
In the last four months, Mason has proved he is part of the next generation of cyclocross racers emerging at the highest level alongside Thibau Nys and Pim Ronhaar. He watched on with admiration as Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock raced the Kerstperiode Christmas races but battled with Eli Iserbyt, Michael Vanthourenhout, Lars van der Haar and Joris Nieuwenhuis every week.
Van der Poel is the stand-out favourite to win the world title in Sunday’s elite men’s race but Mason has earned a place amongst the select group of medal contenders. He will also ride for Great Britain in Friday’s Team Relay event.
“The goal has always been the Worlds,” he tells Cyclingnews during an exclusive interview before travelling to Tabor.
“I’m pretty tired and feeling the effects of all the racing but I’ve got to trust in the process. I know that I just need a few days of recovery to get the freshness back and I’ll be ready for Sunday.”
“I’d like to put myself on that level with those five or six other guys. That’s a lot of people in a fight for the medals but that was the case at the European Championships and the other big race,” Mason says, indirectly highlighting how he won the silver medal in France in November and so became the first non-Dutch or Belgian elite male rider to medal in the UEC European Cyclocross Championships.
“There’s all these guys who have the potential to ride for the win and to ride for podiums. Then in the race things become simple, so I’ll just focus on my own race and see what happens.”
Mason has the results to justify that claim and the respect of his fellow riders after living in Belgium for the cyclocross season and racing for the Cyclocross Reds team.
A major victory in Europe has escaped him but he has seven top-five results that include second in the Superprestige Boom race. High-speed starts have sometimes been a weakness and forced him to chase through the pack but his power and technique are world class.
Mason first turned a few heads at elite level last winter, ending his campaign with ninth at the World Championships.
He then raced for Trinity Racing last summer, with a focus on mountain biking and gravel racing but jumped at the chance to sign for the Cyclocross Reds team managed by the Roodhooft brothers and moved to Belgium for the winter.
Homesickness is not an issue as he focuses on his career, with his Belgian soigneur providing vital support, peace of mind and friendship. Mason has never had the support of British Cycling apart from major championships and does not appear to need it. Former Scottish pro racer James McCallum is his coach and mentor, providing the science and advice as he races from his base in Boom near Antwerp.
“It just feels like such a privilege to be able to race so close to my own bed, to come back to my new apartment, feel at home and switch off,” Mason explains.
“I’m learning how to separate the racing from being me. I want to be able to leave it at the racecourse and turn the page and enjoy life even during the season.
An intense winter cyclocross campaign
This winter Mason has competed in 27 cyclocross races and plans four more after the World Championships. He will take a break and enjoy a well-deserved off-season in March, with plans for some skiing and a road trip at home with friends in Scotland.
The last four months of racing have been a steep and often testing learning curve but hugely successful and satisfying in so many ways. His popular YouTube channel has taken a back seat to the demands of his constant racing.
“I’ve exposed myself to a full season of cyclocross and I’ve realised that comes the low and the highs,” Mason explains.
“Every time you start a race you can crash, have a puncture or have an injury but equally, being in the game every week, you’re ready to take advantage if you have really good legs and those are really good rides. I think that’s what I’ve done this season.
“The European Championships was a good example of being in the right place at the right time, and then taking advantage of my own potential and other people’s mishaps.
“This season has been a kind of breakthrough moment, realising my potential. Next season will be about working out where I can really maximise things and get that extra five percent, to make the difference and win at this level.
“My off-season will be about realising what this ‘cross season meant for me, what was good about it, what was bad about it, what can we do differently.”
A summer of road and gravel
Mason’s obvious maturity and results have earned him a place in the Alpecin-Deceuninck development team for 2024.
He will also have an opportunity to race on the road as a guest in the Alpecin-Deceuninck WorldTour team as he takes the next step in his career. Gravel racing will be part of his summer rather than mountain biking, with everything laying the foundation for next winter and cyclocross.
The Roodhooft brothers take a pragmatic approach to managing their teams and riders, which fits with Mason’s own approach to first focus on the cyclocross season before thinking about his road and gravel plans.
“I want to make the most of the opportunity but I don’t know my specific calendar yet. I haven’t even had that conversation with the team,” he reveals.
“They have an idea of what they want to do for me but it’s not relevant to me at the moment. I’ll cross that bridge in February and March when I’m back on the bike. Of course, I’m really excited for it.
“I know that any road racing programme is going to be about learning and lots of hard work but it should be fun as well. With the higher level I’ve now brought all my cycling, it should be pretty manageable. It doesn’t scare me.
“Canyon are really keen for me to do gravel racing too. I think I can ride for podiums and wins in some of the big events, so gravel will be my off-road fun in the summer as I develop on the road.
“Becoming successful on the road could take years or I could immediately start doing well. Until we get going I don’t know yet.”
His 2024 road racing programme will be explorative and more about understanding his long-term future.
Mason attended the Alpecin-Deceuninck training camp in December in Spain and will be fully supported by the development team.
“I want to optimise the process on the road because I think there’s still lots of headroom there and lots of progress to be made. I think it’s pretty simple: just get stuck into it all and see how things change,” he says.
Mason has observed how Tom Pidcock has developed his career and is now focused more on road racing with Ineos Grenadiers. He has also witnessed close-up how Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel have combined WorldTour road racing with a limited cross campaign.
Mason could eventually follow them but first, he wants to fully explore his cyclocross potential.
“It’s natural that I give cyclocross a really good shot, as I’m doing so well and I have the physique for it,” he says.
“I want a summer that’s going to help my ‘cross season. This year I’ve raced the cross season off the back of an up and down mountain bike and gravel calendar. I only had three weeks of training for Gravel Worlds and the cyclocross season.
“This summer it will be structured and in blocks so that when we get to August and September, we’re thinking about the cyclocross season. Hopefully, there’s still another level of conditioning to come.
“I’ve got a pretty good idea now of how to perform well in cyclocross every weekend, now it’s about getting those peaks at the right time, and pushing for those big results in World Cups and the World Championships. That is the next level for me.”