It’s a week before the World Cyclocross Championships in Tábor, and on a video interview, one of the revelations of the past cyclocross season is briefly preoccupied with stopping his yoga mat from blowing off the balcony of his hotel room.
“It’s becoming busier now with the interview requests,” says Cameron Mason with a smile after a successful save. “There is more interest now from Belgian and Dutch media as well as the British.” The silver medallist at the most recent European Continental Championships really made the step up this season.
Mason speaks to me from a training camp in Spain with the Cyclocross Reds, one team in the expansive empire of the Belgian Roodhooft brothers, which includes the Alpecin-Deceuninck squad of reigning World Road and Cyclocross Champion Mathieu van der Poel, and World Cup champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (CX), the Fenix-Deceuninck outfit of mountain bike World Cup champion Puck Pieterse, and their respective development teams.
Despite his rising profile, Mason doesn’t see himself as responsible for the growth of the sport in the UK. There’s a certain gentleman named Tom Pidcock, for one thing. “I am another name to shout for,” he says, but is happy to embrace his growing fame. “I am another role model in the sport for kids to look up to. In this sport there are so many in this sport and it’s so important to have someone to relate to.” Cameron Mason is certainly relatable, with thoughtful ideas about being a role model, short-term goals, and a self-professed lack of burning drive to be World Champion.
‘I never had a grand plan for my future’
The now 23-year-old Mason hails from Linlithgow, not quite midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Growing up in the West Lothian lowlands near the shores of Linlithgow Loch, he was always an outdoors type. His parents supported him in riding but also hill walking or swimming. But where many young British riders come through the track program, Mason didn’t.
“My brother and I did ride on the Meadowbank outdoor velodrome [in Edinburgh, demolished in 2018], but the outdoors made more sense to us,” he says. “I really enjoyed cycling non-competitively. We did touring trips with family and friends.
“The competitive element came from my cousin who did MTB races at national level. He was my first role model at that level. Another is Danny MacAskill. He is Scottish too so relatable. He is fearless, has great skills, and makes amazing videos. I like all that too. He is still my role model, but I don’t have ambitions to ride on windmills. His brain is wired a little bit differently,” he laughs.
“Things got more serious [in sports] when I was around 14 or 15 and did the European Youth Games in Graz [Austria] with my parents. In mountain bike I applied for the Scottish performance program. As a junior I did a training camp and race in Banyoles [Spain] with the team so that was a big level up for me, traveling to another country and competing against so many other juniors.”
Cyclocross came into the equation through the strong local scene in Scotland. Mason calls it very accessible and low-key for the kids. He and his brother would race in the mornings and his dad in the afternoon. Those experiences, and his international ones on the mountain bike, inspired Mason to travel across the North Sea to the pinnacle of veldrijden.
“Me and my dad travelled to Belgium when I was a second-year junior,” Mason explains. “I had always been a fan of the sport but no one from Scotland really did what we did: going off our own backs to Belgium to race.
“We just thought, ‘Let’s go and try it and see what’s it all about.’ There was so much we didn’t know. We bought our own power washers and didn’t know that was provided,” he recalls with a smile. There were learning curves to even the simplest of tasks, like where to park and register.
A few years later he has multiple national titles in both cyclocross and marathon MTB, but Mason never had grandiose visions for his cycling career, instead taking it one goal at a time. His motivation comes from steady improvement and being a role model.
“I never had a grand plan for my future. I never said as a junior that I was going to be World Champion,” he says. That’s a curious perspective for an elite athlete but, he continues, “that doesn’t motivate me. There is so much between saying that and actually doing it. It’s nice to have goals but it feels far away. I always did it one goal at a time, one race at a time. If you keep doing that for years, you find out looking back how far you have come.
Perhaps because of that focus, “there was never a big moment that I found, like, ‘Yes, I can do this’,” he says. “Maybe winning Dendermonde as a U23 [in 2021] was a pivotal moment, because up until that it was top 10s or top fives. A win in a World Cup is something else, so maybe that was a breakthrough moment in hindsight.”
The Scotsman finds as much or more drive in being a role model to young people. His YouTube channel (22,000 subscribers) has fans from all around the world. He uses it to show his life as a top athlete inside and out and reach a diverse fan base.
“In this sport there are so many role models and it’s so important to have someone to relate to,” he says. “A British kid racing at club level can look up to someone like me who came from the same structure: the same races, same national trophy, and then made the step to race in Belgium off their own back for the first time with the support of dedicated parents, of money and knowledge. That’s the step that can lead them to bigger things and it’s important for me to show that.
“It’s important to be authentic,” he continues. “That’s one of my core values. I feel at [my] most authentic when I am doing what I love and enjoy. If that inspires people to be like that, that’s a bonus. If I can get across how much I enjoy this, that’s what anyone really wants to see.”
‘It would be a shame to have a goal like that and then feel like you failed’
While Mason raced in Europe from his junior years on and won as well, the 2023-2024 season seems to be the year that everything is clicking at the elite level. The year started like any other, he explains: at home in the UK.
“There was nothing special. I was second to Thomas Mein twice and was quite far behind. I struggled to find the ‘cross feeling, that feeling of being able to suffer for an hour.” He was also training for the gravel World Championships, where he was 24th against a deep field of current and former WorldTour pros. That build, and a few weeks of easy riding after, seemed to be exactly what he needed when he arrived in Belgium.
“I went from second in a British C2 [category event] to top five in a Superprestige race in a few weeks,” he notes. “I did the same basics, the same as the past five, six seasons, so I think it’s natural progression. I have been training and honing the skills throughout the years and that came through now.”
A fourth place at the Koppenbergcross heralded his first European podium in the elite category a week later with second place at the European Championships in Pontchateau, followed by a third place in the X2O round in Kortrijk and a second place in the Superprestige at Boom. The season has been a bit on and off for Mason, who typically races more strongly the worse the conditions get, but two more podium places followed in January. He also won the national championships again. It was a special race in Falkirk, just around the corner from home.
Mason loves Scotland but he doesn’t have a big accent. He says his mother, who hails from Surrey, is responsible for that. Home is Scotland though, and it’s where he recharges.
“Linlithgow is about 20 minutes from Edinburgh and 30 minutes from Glasgow and a great place to grow up. It’s very diverse. As a bike rider you can ride do MTB or gravel. There are great places to ride and never too far away. As an international rider I have to look at the mental side of racing too with all the travel.
“Home is important. As long as I go home as often as I can to recharge, it’s good. It’s all about balance. It will be a while before I get home for a longer time because I have some classifications to focus on after Worlds. On this level this is my first year, so I am learning there too. There is still much to develop in my career. It makes sense to focus on ‘cross now and then have a good off-season home in March. I am looking forward to that.”
But that’s a month away. Since Mason is part of a Belgian team now, he also focuses more on the X2O and Superprestige races in February because the classifications are important. For now, his season continues with the World Championships in the Czech Republic this weekend. He never expressed an ambition to become world champion though.
“If I never become World Champion I don’t care,” he says, and means it. “It doesn’t mean my life to me. It doesn’t define me as a person. It would be a shame to have a goal like that and then feel like you failed. Other people with a winner’s mentality would maybe say that you shouldn’t even try if you already thinking of failing, but I don’t see it that way. I think there is a place in cycling for really ambitious people who want to improve all the time and can still win. The goal would be to keep learning, progressing, and optimizing because it’s never simple, it’s never done.”
‘I want to find out if I have the passion for road cycling’
He was also recently announced on the Alpecin-Deceuninck development team and will do a bigger road program in 2024.
“I like that part of cycling, the multi-disciplined nature. There will always be someone with new ideas or a new approach. There is always something to work on; my road cycling has massive headroom to improve. It’s overwhelming how much there is to do, but that motivates me [to have] that kind of goal in the summer and then coming back to ‘cross with more experience there. That kind of combo makes me go on for many more years as rider.
“The development team has some high-level races. Of course, we haven’t discussed a program yet because we do cyclocross now and the team are happy. I wouldn’t gain anything from knowing my road calendar; it’s not relevant just yet.”
Mason has ambitions on the road and, while he focuses race to race, he does think further ahead in broader terms. “There is the hope that being better on the road will help my cyclocross, and secondly if I can be an outright good road rider that would be a nice thing to have,” he says. “Being good at something is fun and road cycling is the pinnacle of our sport. It’s about discovering if I have the thing built in me for road cycling.”
Mason wouldn’t be the first former cyclocross rider making it big on the road. The examples are plentiful. Maybe Mason is the next one to make the step up, but he still has to discover it. “I want to find out if I have the passion or motivation for road cycling,” he admits openly. “I don’t like crashing and if that happens more in road that would be a negative. Maybe road is not for me but it’s time to give it a good shot.”
He also doesn’t want to say goodbye to gravel. “I still have goals in gravel too, where my off-road knowledge can really help me get far. I hope that will go for the road too. I have to work on the tactics in road. There are a lot of challenges,” he adds.
But first up is Tábor where Mason is flying the flag for Great Britain. There is not much doubt who will become World Champion. If all goes well, Mathieu van der Poel will take a sixth elite rainbow jersey. Mason approaches his race with less stress and hopes to have more fun. But the prospect of a good result is certainly there; he was ninth in Hoogerheide in 2023, in his first elite World Championships.
“There is so much chat on conditions in Tábor. I really think the parcours that’s already there, despite conditions, will make for good racing,” he says. “When the race goes it doesn’t matter if there is a mud or ice. The conditions make just a small difference. The fight for positions into the key sections will be busy anyways. That fight for position with me versus 10 Dutch or Belgian guys makes me a bit apprehensive. I have to use my energy in the best place possible,” Mason says.
“Hopefully the race will open up as much as possible and I can get on with it and not have that stop-start race [that doesn’t suit me]. I hope it’s full gas from the gun and I get on with it. My colleagues know what I am good at and know where to make you suffer. We will all be ready for an honest race. My goal is to be ready physically and mentally for the big one.”
It is all in perfect tune with his approach to bike racing and life. “Less stress and more fun, is the motto,” he concludes with a smile.
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