A new star of world cycling was born in Innsbruck last week.
Belgian Remco Evenepoel won both the men’s junior time-trial and junior road race, a historic Road World Championships double achieved in dominant fashion by a flamboyant character who only took up cycling seriously last year once his ambitions of becoming a footballer had waned.
Trailing through the Alps a little further down the field last Thursday were two Yorkshiremen with designs on writing their own headlines one day.
Mason Hollyman, 18, from Emley, finished 20th some seven minutes behind Evenepoel, while Sam Watson, 17, from Leeds, placed 37th, 15 minutes off the pace.
Neither young man was expected to trouble the podium, but their ride through the Alps and into the old town of Innsbruck proved invaluable.
“It was a great experience,” said Hollyman. “I was caught up in a couple of crashes, which was a bit gutting, but you’ve just got to make the best of what you’ve got and not let your head drop.
“I’ve raced quite a few European races, but the world championships is another level completely.
“No race can prepare you properly for a world championship test, especially one with three big climbs.”
“It was a mega experience,” added an equally exuberant Watson. “The crowds kept you going. I’ve been racing with GB throughout the year, doing the Classics, Roubaix and also the Nations Cup – so I’m familiar with this level. But this just gave you a taste of what’s possible.”
Both young men will hope this is just the start, with next year’s UCI Road World Championships being staged in Yorkshire, providing a huge incentive to secure a return. Hollyman may find that journey more difficult as he steps up next year to Under-23s level and will find riders aged from 19 to 22 challenging him for a Great Britain jersey.
That’s a huge incentive, and it’s quite special,. It’s where I live and the route is where I do my ride on a Saturday, so I’m quite motivated for it already.Sam Watson
Watson still has another year at junior level,when he will hope to once more ride in the red, white and blue at a world championship junior road race that runs from Richmond to Harrogate on Thursday, September 26, 2019.
“That’s a huge incentive, and it’s quite special,” said Watson, who got into cycling through schoolfriend Tom Pidcock, the former world junior cyclo-cross champion. “It’s where I live and the route is where I do my ride on a Saturday, so I’m quite motivated for it already.”
Watson will continue his education on the track this winter with his development in both disciplines ensuring he keeps his options open for when the time comes to decide on which pursuit to concentrate.
Hollyman steps up to Under-23s level next year and will continue to ride on the road for his current team Zappi Racing.
He is moving to Italy to combine his long-term ambition of becoming a road cyclist with his more immediate goal of forcing his way into the GB squad for next year’s world championship Under-23s race from Doncaster to Harrogate.
“I’d really love to ride for the GB team again,” said Hollyman. “I’ll be a first-year Under-23 next year so it’ll be hard, but I really want to be there.
“What Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome have achieved in recent years shows that anything is possible if you work hard enough.
“Look at the guy who won in Innsbruck, Evenepoel; he’s a pro cyclist next year so it just goes to show the level we’ve raced against this year. But this is a very strong crop of British riders.”