We were looking at the result of the u23 Trofeo Piva in Italy, recently to see how Flavio Zappi’s boys had done when a name caught our eye; in 11th spot was a certain Mason Hollyman [Israel Cycling Academy] with a little union jack beside his name.
The Italian u23 school is a hard one; I’ve been reading tales of a ‘crisis’ in Italian cycling for 50 years but the sport is in the soil out there and u23 fields are still huge and competition intense on challenging percorso which are rarely flat.
This was edition #72 of the Trofeo Piva with AG2R, Astana, Bingoal, DSM, Jumbo and Qhubeka development teams among the 34 squadra on the start sheet – not forgetting the mighty Italian ‘nursery’ squads Colpack Ballan and Zalf Euromobil Zalf.
All those young men want to pull on a full pro jersey one day, even if it is ‘just’ Androni or Bardiani…
Best ‘have a word’ with the 20 year-old gentleman from the rugby Heartlands around Huddersfield and Wakefield, we thought to ourselves.
How did you get into the sport, Mason?
“Through my dad, initially it was to enjoy the social side, going on club runs.
“I also played a bit of football but then I got into doing a bit of “testing” and here I am now.”
And the question I have to ask or face the wrath of Jos Ryan, ‘are you a Dave Rayner Fund’ man?’
“I was last year – and that was a great help to me – but I get a wage from the team now and it’s not fair to take funding that another lad could be getting.”
We were looking at your palmarès, a stage win and sixth on GC in the 2017 Giro di Basilicata in Italy – a nice result.
“Yes, that was my first UCI road race; I was guesting with Identity Race Team in that one. “
I also rode the junior Tour of the Basque Country that year.”
Third overall and second on a stage in the UCI 2.1 Axel SPIE Internationale Juniorendriedaagse in 2018, that’s a big race – Quinn Simmons won in 2019 and Stefan Bissegger who beat Cavagna to win the Paris-Nice chrono this year, won in 2017.
“Yes, that was a super-nice result, the parcours in that race suits the Classics rider and there’s a time trial too.
“I was originally going to ride for a team mate but he crashed – I did too, and my dad, who was there helping us, had to fish me out of a field, complete with chainring marks on my leg.
“I got back on the bike, chased and went straight past the peloton.
“I had some other decent results that season; I was sixth in the UCI 1.1 Trofeo Buffoni in Italy and made the top 20 in the Junior Worlds in Austria, where Remco Evenepoel won.”
And you had a top 20 finish in the Baby Giro in 2019…
“I was with Flavio Zappi that season and to be honest I think I went into that race a little naive, I was shocked by the level of the racing – it was a very hard race.”
Zappi again for 2020.
“Zappi was good, I enjoyed my time there, it was a good set up with guys my own age all in the big team house and the programme was super.
“But the season was obviously compromised by the pandemic; although I managed some decent results, I was top 20 in the Tour of Rhodes before ‘lockdown’, then top 10 in the Tour of Bulgaria in late July.
“I was all set for the Baby Giro in late August but was involved in crashes on Stages One and Two which obviously compromised me but I did get round to the finish.”
Italy is where you seem most at home?
“The persorso there suits me; I like the climbs so that rules out Belgium, and if I went to France it would have to be the Alps where there’s not so much racing.
‘With Zappi we had a great programme, stage races right up to the Baby Giro and all the top single day u23 races on roads which mostly suited me.”
How did the Israel Cycling Academy ride come about?
“I’ve been producing some half decent numbers in training and achieving some reasonable results, so my coach – former professional and British Elite National Criterium Champion, Dean Downing who I’ve worked with since 2017 – submitted my power files to the team.
“I attended the World Tour team’s training camp in Andorra and was accepted for the development team.”
What’s the setup like?
“Zappi was a good team but here there are more resources, Zak Dempster the very experienced ex-pro is our head sports director, and we have a masseur, a camper van and are well looked after.”
Where are you based?
“I’m here in Girona which is ideal, there are plenty of guys to train with and the location is such that you can go into the hills or do motor pacing on flat roads.
“The weather is generally good – albeit grim today, it was wet for my easy three hours.”
Just outside the top 10 in the Trofeo Piva in early April, that looked like a tough one, a Colpack Ballan winner so no surprise?
“It was a good race, my first proper race of the year so it was a good start in a race which is at the highest level.
“It was a hard one; just 54 finishers from 170 starters, so I was pleased with my ride.”
How does your programme look?
“On April 18th we have the Trofeo Citta di San Vendemaniano [Mason finished in the main peloton some two minutes behind 21 year-old French winner, Paul Lapeira, ed.]
“We hope to ride the Challenge Mallorca which has been re-scheduled for May but unfortunately we’re not in the Baby Giro; but then neither are GB whilst Zappi are there – but with Flavio being an ex-pro and having all his connections that’s perhaps not a surprise?
“Maybe we weren’t selected because we’re a new team?
“The Rhone Alpes is a race which suits me and we hope to ride that too, it’s also in May.”
What’s 2021 about for you?
“To make it successful I’d like at least a podium in a stage race.
“I’m knocking on in terms of u23 riders, I’ll be 21 in June and whilst it’s easy to think, ‘I still have a couple of years as a u23 rider,’ the time goes by so fast…”
And it goes by faster the older one gets! Wishing Mason ‘all the best’ for the rest of his season.