When it comes to young sportsmen, Tom Pidcock is one of the most temperamental in this country. A professional bike racer since 2017 – he started in the amateur ranks aged seven – the Yorkshireman was crowned Olympic mountain bike champion in Japan last summer and, in January, world cyclo-cross champion.
And as if reaching the heights in these two cycling specialties were not enough, the road racing career that Pidcock embarked on four years ago is finally starting to pay off. Currently signed to super team Ineos Grenadiers – which evolved from Team Sky, responsible for guiding compatriots Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas to Tour de France glory – a successful 2021 should go according to plan, leading to a year 2022 even brighter. .
One of the most notable things about Pidcock’s rise is his versatility. The majority of racing cyclists specialize quickly, focusing on one or two of the many facets of the sport. For example, cross-country mountain biking – where it won Olympic gold in 2021 – is an all-terrain sport, with each lap featuring steep climbs, rock-strewn descents and narrow, rutted tracks, with a race Completed in less than 90 minutes. Road races, on the other hand, are held on tarmac roads with a typical dueling day lasting five or six hours non-stop. Difference is like night and day, yet Pidcock excels at both. Add to that world-class cyclocross skills and an impressive ability in the time trial (a solo race against the clock in which he became junior world champion five years ago) and you have one of the more complete at the moment. It’s like Usain Bolt who excels in the 100 meters, the race and the marathon. And Pidcock is still only 23.
Born into a cycling-loving family in Leeds, Pidcock, who received an MBE for his services to cycling earlier this year, currently resides in Andorra. And though he has just returned home for the first time since the start of the cyclo-cross season in November, he explains that the altitude offered by his Pyrenean home is ideal for developing his endurance, as are the mountain roads cliffs that surround its base.
Of the two huge wins he has had so far, which was his favorite?
“The Olympics, of course,” he replies without wasting time. “It’s just bigger, it’s only every four years and it’s like no other cycling race – it’s just the Olympics! And even though this race was only my goal for such a short time compared to other people, once you got there, no world championship could ever feel the same.
This is from someone who knows. Six months after that win in Izu, Japan, Pidcock was back on the world stage and totally dominating the Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. For the uninitiated, cyclocross – often shortened to CX, or simply “cross” – features a mass start and is run on an off-road cross-country circuit punctuated with man-made obstacles such as hedges and steps, including many require riders to temporarily dismount and race with their bikes slung over their shoulders. He was the pre-race favorite and exceeded expectations by dropping all his rivals at half distance.
“In a way, it was harder to win this race, because all the pressure was on me and I had to perform,” he said. “The last two laps, you know, the only things that can stop you from winning are a mechanic or a crash and you don’t focus on what you need and end up focusing on what can go wrong, that which means it’s more likely to go wrong. Just keep your head in the right place.
Pidcock’s debut in a Grand Tour – one of cycling’s trio of three-week road races, held each year in Italy, France and Spain – was, on the other hand, a more stark awakening. Road cycling racing is perhaps unique in the sport, as riders compete for individual glory, but also rely on the support of their teammates to do so. In the Vuelta a España in Spain last August and September, Pidcock took on the role of servant – a dedicated team assistant – in the service of his then team manager, Egan Bernal. He describes the experience as follows: “Three long weeks of putting my head in my head.” Looking back a little more pragmatically, he adds: “But it’s my fault if I didn’t put myself into it 100% because I didn’t really take care of myself after the Olympics. It was nice to get a perspective from the other side really, a servant’s perspective and to see how hard this job is. I realized that it’s very impressive what these guys are doing.
Last year’s Vuelta was Pidcock’s first real chance to race wheel-to-wheel with these road racers likely to become serious rivals for seasons to come. Part of a wave of young talent currently taking the pro peloton by storm – alongside riders such as Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel and Belgian Wout van Aert – the Yorkshireman sees them all as equals.
“You can’t have favorites when you race against them,” he says bluntly. “Everyone is nice in the peloton and talks to each other, so there’s no one you’re afraid to race against. But when I was a junior, Wout and Mathieu were winning everything in cross country. Then when they went racing down the road, I was racing against them and that’s when I realized you can’t race against your heroes. They just can’t be heroes when you have to go up against them. Pogacar is more ahead than me with his Grand Tour races, that’s for sure, but I see myself almost in the same category, so he’s a rival and a competitor.
Speaking of cycling heroes, Pidcock claims Britain’s first Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, as a particular favourite. Mark Cavendish, the veteran sprinter from the Isle of Man who is enjoying something of an Indian summer in the sport, is also mentioned.
“I remember coming home from school to watch them in the Tour de France, so when Cav won the Tour again last year it was so good to watch – it really was like the good old days .”
As for long-term goals, Pidcock refuses to be drawn, although he admits he has his eye on the 2024 Paris Olympics. “And maybe there will be a moment to focus only on the Grand Tours, but it certainly won’t be in the near future,” he says, clearly enjoying being an all-rounder. “Mountain biking is probably my favorite right now. But depending on how successful my spring is on the road, it might just become my favorite.
The next big race planned by Pidcock is the Tour of Flanders on April 3. One of cycling’s landmarks – five one-day races, each over a century old – the 272km course seems, on paper at least, to suit its versatility as it includes tough, cobbled climbs and technical and narrow roads. That said, these ultra-durable Spring Classics tend to favor larger (Pidcock weighs around 60kg) and older riders. A race earlier this season, the Strade Bianche of Tuscany, also provides an almost ideal course for the Ineos Grenadiers rider, but he unfortunately had to retire just days before the start with what his team described as a bad stomach.
Is there a single race he still dreams of winning?
“I want to win a Grand Tour,” he said. “I don’t want to just be a Grand Tour rider year after year – I want to be a Grand Tour winner. And the Tour de France is the biggest.
Pidcock’s victory celebration is “the Superman”. If his margin of victory allows it, he lies down horizontally on the bike, his legs straight behind, his stomach on the saddle, one hand on the bars with the other stretched out in front, fist closed. It’s distinctive, fun, fantastic for professional photographers and, on occasion, a sweetheart for its fans. Don’t bet against him taking such a crazy stance on the Champs-Élysées anytime soon, sealing victory as Britain’s fourth winner of cycling’s biggest prize.
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