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.
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