Britain's Cameron Mason and Belgian Eli Iserbyt turn through an incredibly muddy corner during the 2023 CX European Champs.

Cyclocross gallery: A week of mud and cobbles in the eye of a storm

In the wake of Storm Ciarán, the CX European Champs were a particularly muddy affair, following on from the iconic mid-week Koppenbergcross.

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 05.11.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Warning: Scottish British bias may follow.

Fem van Empel continuing her unbeaten smashfest; Thibau Nys earning the family’s 10th Koppenbergcross title; Zoe Bäckstedt taking the U23 European title at 19; Michael Vanthourenhout doubling up … These are all solid stories, but in what has been a relatively quiet week of racing, the more compelling stories are on the lower steps of the podiums.

As Storm Ciarán whipped itself into a frenzy this week, forcing the poetically ironic cancellation of the Dutch headwind champs and drowning Northern Europe for the nth time this autumn, at least one man was rubbing his hands together in delight. That man was Cameron Mason of GB and Cyclocross Reds, who has had something of a coming-of-age season so far, and who played a starring role in this weekend’s European Champs action.

A week or so ago, the 23-year-old Scot quipped in his Instagram Stories that maybe he was put on this earth to glide through thick European mud, and to do so perhaps just a little less slowly than his rivals. This self-effacing statement (which I can’t prove exists, but I promise I saw it!) was verified during Sunday’s elite men’s race where Mason – who finished just off the podium on Wednesday and is yet to finish outside the top 10 this season – navigated through the pack after a less-than fortunate opening lap and onto the front of the chase group a handful of seconds behind the race leader.

Ten months after winning the British national championships in even more swamp-like conditions, Mason somehow looked bigger and lighter than his fellow chasers, nimbly manipulating his bike through the slick mud, unfazed by the intermittent cloudbursts, and eventually leaving the cream of the Belgian and Dutch crops grovelling in his wake to take the silver medal and his first international podium at elite level. Mason and mud is a happy combination.

Earlier in the day, after the juniors and under-23 ranks had their fun in the sun – all Saturday’s races were rescheduled due to the storm – the silver medal fight in the elite women’s race was a particularly dogged affair. Before this weekend, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado had met her compatriot Van Empel four times, and though she seems to find deeper reserves at each passing race, the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider has been shaken loose every time.

So far this season, Alvarado has scored a royal flush of podium finishes, including victory at Superprestige Ruddervoorde (Van Empel and Puck Pieterse were both absent). By the European champs, the end result was only written in pencil to insure against misfortune, and sure enough, the race played out almost exactly as you’d expect. And while the indomitable Van Empel continues to sterilise the drama – no shade; it’s not her fault she’s too good for everyone else – all eyes have turned to the race for the minor placings, nearly always led by Alvarado, whose face and body language are carved with desolate determination.

On Wednesday’s iconic Koppenbergcross (or X20 Trofee Oudenaarde to give it its proper name), though, it was Denise Betsema who chewed Van Empel’s mud as Alvarado took a few days off, while British rider Anna Kay (Cyclocross Reds) plugged away to take arguably her biggest result of the season so far with third. In the elite men’s race, it was Thibau Nys who took his first win since World Cup Waterloo, following in the pedal strokes of his father Sven.

Though we’ve certainly seen more action-packed racing elsewhere, more changes at the front of the race and smaller gaps at the finish, both Koppenbergcross and the Pontchâteau Euros course have provided some of the more dramatic and photogenic scenes of the season thus far. Have a look for yourself.

Fem van Empel leads the field through thick mud with her bike on her shoulder during Koppenbergcross.
There are two reasons you can tell this is lap one of Koppenbergcross: Van Empel has company and her white world champion’s socks are still white.
Michael Vanthourenhout leads Lars van der Haar during Koppenbergcross, both running alongside their bikes in the thick mud.
It appears there was more running than riding on Wednesday …
Lars van der Haar in the middle of remounting his bike during Koppenbergcross.
Lars van der Haar has been Mr Consistent so far this season, not finishing off the podium since the trip to Waterloo.
Anna Kay runs through thick mud with her bike on her shoulder during Koppenbergcross.
Anna Kay has had a good week, with third at Koppenbergcross and seventh at the European champs.
Fem van Empel crosses the finish line of koppenbergcross with one finger held up in celebration.
Number 1.
Thibau Nys celebrates Koppenbergcross victory with ten fingers held up to denote the ten wins he and his father share at the race.
Thibau Nys crossed the line with 10 fingers splayed before picking his dad out from the crowd. The 20-year-old’s Koppenbergcross brings the Nys family’s tally up to 10.
Thibau Nys kisses the top of his father's head, Sven holding the Koppenbergcross cobble trophy.
Sven Nys gets his hands on a 10th cobbled trophy.
Marie Schreiber and Zoe Bäckstedt ride through heavily rutted mud as the sun shines on the women's under-23 cyclocross european championship race.
At the European Championships, all races were held on Sunday to avoid Storm Ciarán, and with worse weather to follow, the younger categories enjoyed far more pleasant conditions.

In the under-23 women’s race, Marie Schreiber (Luxembourg) and Zoe Bäckstedt (Great Britain) battled it out early before the latter went clear and took a solo victory.
Zoe Bäckstedt gives a thumbs up as she crosses the line as U23 european champion.
Bäckstedt has only once finished outside the elite top 10 this season – 13th at World Cup Maasmechelen – and at just 19 years old, there’s certainly plenty more to come from the young Welsh rider.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado is a picture of determination as she chases the leader during the elite women's cylocross european champs.
The sun was hiding by the time the elite women took the course, but Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado seemed unfazed as she dug in to yet another fierce chase of lone leader Van Empel.
Sanne Cant holds on tight as she takes a corner in thick mud during the european cx championships.
Sanne Cant holds on tight.
Britain's Cameron Mason and Belgian Eli Iserbyt turn through an incredibly muddy corner during the 2023 CX European Champs.
In the elite men’s race, Cameron Mason danced through the mud, seen here cutting inside Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) on a mud-saturated corner early on. More rain later in the race would make this section even worse, if that’s possible.
Thibau Nys drags his bike through thick waterlogged mud during the european cyclocross champs.
In the men’s race, Thibau Nys (and his bike) had a tough day out, registering a DNF not long after giving his Trek Boone a bath in sticky choco-mud.
Aniek van Alphen lies on her side after slipping in in the deep mud during the european cx champs.
Aniek van Alphen was one of the many to hit the deck.
Fem van Empel rides solo through deeply rutted mud during the european champs.
Italy’s Sara Casasola got her season underway with four straight wins back home in Italy and Switzerland before joining the World Cup field at Maasmechelen where she raced to seventh. Next stop was the Euros where the 24-year-old proved she thrives in the mud, riding to a breakthrough third place behind Van Empel and Alvarado.
Fem van Empel celebrates winning the European title with both hands raised above the head, pointing skyward.
A two-fingered salute this time, and the sun came out to help celebrate. That was about the last of the sun’s rays for the day, though.
The elite men's bunch rides four abreast through the first turns of the european cyclocross champs course.
Michael Vanthourenhout went all in from the start to defend his European title.
Michael Vanthourenhout of Belgium rides away through thick mud, crowds lining the fence, umbrellas raised, during the european cyclocross champs.
Lars van der Haar lifts his bike aloft as he runs through deep waterlogged mud during the european cyclocross champs.
After a first-line start, Lars van der Haar had a few setbacks in the early laps, but the two-time European champion steadily paced through the field and outpaced a weary Pim Ronhaar in the exhausted two-up sprint for third.
Michael Vanthourenhout of Belgium rides through thick mud during the european cyclocross champs.
The gap between Vanthourenhout and Mason fluctuated in the last few laps, but the Belgian held on …
Michael Vanthourenhout sits up as he celebrates winning the european cyclocross title, two fingers raised to the sky.
… to win back-to-back titles. Cam Mason finished seven seconds later to claim the first ever men’s elite European medal of any colour for a country that isn’t Belgium or the Netherlands. A huge day for … well, the world, and for
Scotland Great Britain.
“For you, Grandad.”

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