On Tuesday, May 31, Israel–Premier Tech WorldTour team announced that British rider Mason Hollyman would step up from the Israel Cycling Academy to take a pro contract among the 2023 roster, having impressed in the early half of 2022 with fourth in Trofea Piva and fifth in the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Cycling Weekly magazine (opens in new tab) caught up with the rider from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in the latter half of 2021. Here's what he had to say then...
Where are winners made? In the womb? In school? On an altitude camp styled as an Italian remake of The Shining?
Looking ahead to 2023
Hollyman will turn pro with Israel–Premier Tech in 2023. Speaking about the announcement, IPT general manager Kjell Carlström said: “Mason Hollyman is one of the most promising talents when it comes to the next generation of General Classification riders. Although he is only 21-years-old, he has proved that he has what it takes to make the step up to the WorldTour level."
Hollyman is relishing the opportunity to ride alongside experienced Grand Tour veterans, such as Chris Froome. "I went to Gran Canaria with Chris before the season started to get some good kilometers in, and it was super cool for me to be riding day in, day out with a childhood hero and to be learning from him," he said. "I remember running home from school to watch him winning on Mont Ventoux before I went on the evening chain gang. It’s a dream come true to be turning pro with Israel–Premier Tech!"
In the case of hotshot young British climber Mason Hollyman it could well be the latter. “Six of us spent three weeks in a couple of camper vans on top of a mountain that the Giro d’Italia had finished on the year before. All there was at the top of this mountain was just one half-abandoned hotel,” says the Yorkshireman recalling his first altitude camp experience in 2019. He then remembers: “Next to the hotel was a prison where Mussolini was imprisoned. It was a bit crazy.”
He was staying atop the Gran Sasso d’Italia, in case you want to book your own stay – CW cannot be held accountable for what a lot of work and no play will do to you there.
Luckily, Hollyman did not descend into seeing ghosts and brutally murdering his then Holdsworth-Zappi team-mates. He went on to ride the Tour of Britain in the colours of Israel Start-Up Nation, having been called up from the squad’s academy outfit.
At 21, he’s now considered one of British climbing’s brightest young prospects. When CW first meets Hollyman post-race, his fresh face is streaked with dirt, giving it the appearance of a chimney sweep in a Disney movie rather than an axe-wielding Jack Torrance.
When we ask him how it has gone, he says: “It’s been a pleasure. For me, it’s really nice to see how these guys work, and just try to learn from them.”
The son of a keen cyclist father, he got into the sport as a eight-year-old riding with his family at the weekends. Before long he was riding with them in France, climbing mountains in the Alps and the Massif Central.
Within a few years he was racing on the junior scene. He began to be coached by ex-pro Dean Downing, who’d been asked to help the promising teenager by Kirklees Cycling Academy manager Darren Stringer. Downing recalls fondly Hollyman’s breakthrough year in 2018 when he won the junior series, including the Monmouthshire Grand Prix.
“He’d worked so hard for results in his junior years, and he was getting up there in races and things were going wrong. Then Monmouthshire came up and I said this is made for you [it’s really hilly], we talked about the course before it. Then on the day of the race I was riding back from the coast when I got the message saying he’d won,” Downing remembers. “I sent him a video message on WhatsApp, me riding down the road waving my hands in the air and shouting. ‘You’re a nutter,’ he wrote back.”
A couple of months later he finished just under a minute down on the now Ineos Grenadier, Ben Tullett, at the Junior Tour of Wales.
As an under-23 rider supported by the Rayner Foundation, Hollyman joined the well-reputed Holdsworth-Zappi squad based in Italy (a logical choice for a climber) and racked up a top 20 in the Baby Giro off the back of his Shining-style training camp. Like all U23 riders in 2020, his season was hampered by the pandemic.
It was during that time that he decided to take his bike to Holme Moss and went up it 33 times to set a British Everesting record of 8:28 (later broken by WiV-Sungod rider Max Stedman).
He says he still has no intention of trying to get it back and at that time there were bigger targets to focus on.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly in September 2021, Hollyman was aiming to try and improve his Baby Giro result from 2019. “I’d pinned a lot of hopes on the Baby Giro and then I crashed badly on the second stage and all chances I had of going for a GC result were just gone in an instant,” he recalls. He soldiered on but to no avail.
He’d clearly done enough to get noticed though. Downing’s friend and former team-mate Zak Dempster mentioned he’d had an eye on Hollyman to Downing without knowing it was one of his riders. Downing didn’t need to do much to convince him to take him on and late last year he signed for the team. A stint at the team’s altitude camp – which was significantly more plush than his campervan experience – sealed the deal.
The first half of 2021, he mostly rode with the Israel Academy squad, which he says is “set up like a WorldTour team”.
“I think for me, it’s been great to be part of a set-up, which has eased a bit of the pressure with just not having to do quite as many things such as setting up my bike – we’ve got mechanics for that,” he says
Before arriving in the UK, he had already impressed at the Tour of Portugal, racing in the academy’s colours. Israel Start-Up Nation DS Cherie Pridham was in the car for that performance: “He listens to what we expect from him, he learns quickly. And most of all, he has the engine.”
After a double flat at the bottom of the race’s first mountain kiboshed his GC hopes, he went stage hunting and hit paydirt two days later on stage five. “I was in the bunch and a group of 15 guys went and my team-mate said, ‘You’ve got to go now.’ It was always going to be tough as there were two Movistar riders in it. Then guys start attacking 65km out and I thought these guys are crazy. I went after one guy and caught him after 30km then 5km later we hit the final climb and I just had better legs than him but the other guys were coming quick. I had Cherie in my ear saying, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming,’” he recalls. Hollyman soloed over the line, jersey flapping in the Portuguese heat, to claim his first pro win.
Hollyman’s team-mate at the Tour of Britain, Alex Dowsett, was among those he impressed. “If you win a stage of the Tour of Portugal, you’re good,” Dowsett says. “Portugal is hard… I think he can be even better if he perhaps hangs back a year and really learns to race but also enjoys it, has some fun and wins a bunch of races rather than coming into the WorldTour and maybe taking a belting.”
Hollyman is of the same mindset. “I’ve put too much pressure on myself the last three years. Looking at guys my age and thinking I need to be there with them now. I think you’ve just got to go at your own speed and enjoy what you’re doing and I think now I’m going in the right direction.”
He adds: “Tadej Pogačar won three Vuelta stages and was third on GC [in 2019] when he was 21 and everyone looks at that and thinks they have to be that, but everyone’s different. Everyone hits a peak at different times. And, you know, not everyone’s going to be Pogačar.” Indeed, Downing says that while he thinks Hollyman could end up a good GC rider, he might be better suited to hunting stages in the Grand Tours.
Either way, his attitude to his progress is indicative of what everyone we speak to around him says – that he has the mind of a more experienced rider behind his fresh face. That will likely be his best weapon in the fight for future success. It’ll also help keep him sane should he choose to visit any further Overlook Hotel lookalikes.
This interview first appeared in the pages of Cycling Weekly print magazine. You can subscribe through this link here (opens in new tab).
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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.