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OF all the cycling disciplines, cyclo-cross is the least well-known to the wider Scottish public.
Cameron Mason may well be about to change all that.
The 21-year-old has established himself as one of the world’s very best young talents in a sport that tests riders over some of the most brutal conditions a bike rider could ever encounter.
Cyclo-cross is to cycling what cross-country is to athletics.
More often than not, it’s survival of the fittest; swamps, obstacles, steep climbs, and treacherous descents are par for the course for a cyclo-cross rider.
For most, the thought of battling through miles upon miles of mud on two wheels would be anathema; for Mason, the tougher the conditions, the more he thrives.
Over the past few months, the Linlithgow rider has been in the form of his life.
Following an injury-ravaged six months at the end of 2020 into 2021, he began showing real signs of his potential this season with sixth place at the under-23 European Championships and an impressive third at the Tabor under-23 World Cup.
It was on Boxing Day last month, though, that Mason really grabbed the spotlight.
In winning his first major global victory, in the under-23 category at the Dendermonde Cyclo-Cross World Cup in Belgium, Mason proved he has what it takes to beat the very best the rest of the world has to offer.
It was the culmination of the greatest year of his career.
“I feel like I’ve made a big step up over the past year but I also feel like it’s been a long time coming,” he says.
“In the past, there’s been hints of my potential but what I’ve managed to do recently is consistently show it at each race so I’m happy with that.
“Having one more year of experience has been a massive thing and also coming back from injury has made me stronger mentally. So my improvement is a combination of a few things.”
Mason could not have timed his rise any better.
This weekend, he will ride for GB at the Cyclo-Cross under-23 World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas and will take his place in the field knowing that, if things go to plan – if that’s ever possible in cyclo-cross – he could well finish the weekend as Scotland’s latest cycling world champion.
While he is conscious not to get too far ahead of himself, he is also well aware of the opportunity that is in front of him in his last year in the under-23 category before he moves into the senior ranks.
“Last year, I got injured a week before the Worlds so this year, I feel like I’ve got something to prove,” he says.
“I think I’ve got a really good shot at doing very well.
“In cyclo-cross, there’s a lot of things you can’t affect so the Worlds is about controlling the things I can control and accepting that with everything else, what will be, will be.
“There’s probably four or five of us who are in with a shot at the podium - and the win - so I think it’ll just depend on who’s got it on the day.”
Mason began cycling while still at primary school, and tried his hand at every discipline but it was the off-road events that really attracted him.
It was as a teenager, when he began travelling to Europe to race, that things became more serious before, as a 20-year-old, he took the plunge and relocated to Belgium, one of the real hubs of cyclo-cross.
In his first year, one of his housemates was fellow Brit, Tom Pidcock, the multi-discipline rider who is a former cyclo-cross under-23 world champion as well as Olympic champion in mountain bike.
It is the likes of Pidcock, as well as a handful of other top riders, who have proven that taking a multi-discipline approach may not only be possible, it could, in actual fact, be beneficial.
For Mason, who has also shown signs of being an accomplished road rider, finishing in the top 30 in last season’s National Road Championships, branching out from cyclo-cross, which is primarily a winter sport, is something that has certainly crossed his mind.
“This summer will be a mix of road and mountain bike at world level for me,” he says.
“I feel like I’ve got a few things to prove there because last summer, because of my injuries, I didn’t really get the chance to show what I can do. So I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do on the mountain bike and the road and, depending on how I do, it could open up a lot of options for me to different parts of the sport.
“I’m excited about the year ahead because, knowing how I’m riding at the moment, if I can translate that onto the road and mountain bike, it could be a good year.”
There is, of course, the Commonwealth Games looming this summer, with a place in Team Scotland at some point in his career certainly something Mason, who is coached by Commonwealth Games medallist, James McCallum, has his eye on.
The 2022 Games may, he fears, come a touch too early for him but the next edition, in 2026, is already on his radar.
“Birmingham might be too soon for me – because of my injuries last year, I missed a lot of the qualification events,” he says.
“There’s still a tiny chance I could qualify so if I did manage to get there, it’d be an amazing bonus.
“But the Commonwealth Games is a huge bucket list thing in my career, especially having the chance to represent Scotland, so I’m definitely hoping to make the team at some point.”